Curtis Flowers at a bail hearing in Winona, Miss., Monday, Dec. 16, 2019.
The Mississippi Attorney General’s Office is dropping its case against Curtis Flowers, a Black man who was tried six times for the same crime by a white prosecutor.
The case drew national attention last year as it went before the U.S. Supreme Court after it was the subject of “In The Dark,” a popular investigative podcast.
Flowers, accused of killing four people at a furniture store in Winona in 1996, has maintained his innocence for more than two decades as his case went through an unprecedented number of trials, the most in modern U.S. history.
“Today I am finally free from the injustice that left me locked in a box for nearly 23 years,” Flowers, 50, said Friday in a statement. “I’ve been asked if I ever thought this day would come. I have been blessed with a family that never gave up on me and with them by my side, I knew it would.”
One of Flowers’ attorneys noted the significance that the dismissal came as protesters demonstrate in the U.S. and around the world against police killings of Black people.
The dismissal “adds one more important proof that 145 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1875, a recalcitrant demagogue will no longer be able to stop the forces of transformation in Mississippi and nationally, calling for racial equity to replace white supremacy as our justice system’s organizing principle,” attorney Henderson Hill said.
‘Unprecedented’ number of trials caused by mistrials and prosecutor misconduct
The prosecutor, Fifth Circuit District Attorney Doug Evans, tried Flowers multiple times as he failed to convince the juries of Flowers’ guilt and failed to make convictions stick. Two trials ended in hung juries and four convictions were overturned because higher courts found evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.
In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Flowers’ most recent conviction in 2010 after finding that Evans deliberately worked to prevent prospective Black jurors from serving during jury selection.
In December, Flowers was allowed to walk free on bond and return to his family for the first time in two decades as they waited to see if he would face trial a seventh time.
Flowers’ attorneys sought to remove Evans from the case. The prosecutor quietly withdrew in January in the face of opposition and Flowers’ case went to Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office for review.
Fitch filed a motion to dismiss Flower’s indictment on Friday and it was approved by Judge Joseph Loper.
“The case against Curtis Flowers never made sense,” said Flowers’ attorney, Rob McDuff of the Mississippi Center for Justice. “He was 26 years old with no criminal record and nothing in his history to suggest he would commit a crime like this. As time went by, even more evidence emerged to corroborate his innocence. This prosecution was flawed from the beginning and was tainted throughout by racial discrimination. It should never have occurred and lasted far too long, but we are glad it is finally over.”
Vangela Wade, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, said district attorneys hold much power in charging decisions, bail, plea bargaining, trial and sentencing.
Wade called for a “deeper fight against racism” in the state’s criminal justice system.
“Mississippi must reform our criminal justice system from the bottom up, starting with rooting out racial bias in prosecutorial discretion,” Wade said.
Why did the AG decide to drop charges?
Fitch filed a motion on Friday to dismiss the indictment against Flowers, citing a lack of witnesses and the existence of alternate suspects.
In court filings, the Attorney General’s office said all key witnesses that had testified against Flowers in the past had either died or made conflicting statements on the record.
“…The only witness who offered direct evidence of guilt recanted his prior testimony, admitting that he was lying when he said Mr. Flowers made a jailhouse confession to the murders.”
Much of the new evidence of Flowers’ innocence stemmed from the investigation by “In the Dark,” Flowers’ attorneys said.
The Tardy Furniture murders: What happened?
On the morning of July 16, 1996, Tardy Furniture’s owner and three employees were shot in the head execution-style.
The victims were Bertha Tardy, 59; Carmen Rigby, 45; Roberty Golden, 42; and 16-year-old Derrick Stewart, who was known as “Bobo.” All were dead at the scene except Derrick, who fought for his life for several days until he succumbed to his injuries.
The evidence investigators gathered at the scene included a bloody footprint and bullets. Nearly $400 was missing from the cash drawer.
Police arrested Flowers several months later. He was indicted on four counts of capital murder.
Flowers had worked at the store for a short time before being fired, and prosecutors had portrayed Flowers as a disgruntled employee who was out for revenge.
Follow Alissa Ahu on Twitter: @AlissaZhu
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Curtis Flowers: Charges dropped by Mississippi Attorney General