After almost 23 years in jail, a Mississippi man was released on Friday and filed a lawsuit against the district attorney, who prosecuted him six times in the murders of four people at a small-town furniture shop. Curtis Flowers was released in December 2019, six months after the United States Supreme Court overturned his conviction and death sentence from his sixth trial in 2010. The justices found prosecutors had an unlawful practice of barring African American jurors from Flowers’ trials. Three detectives working with Montgomery County District Attorney Doug Evans are also named in the Friday complaint. There is no mention of the county as a defendant.
According to the lawsuit,Evans and the detectives acted by “pressuring witnesses to make statements about witnessing Mr. Flowers in certain places on the day of the killings” and disregarding other potential possibilities. The Associated Press left a message at Evans’ office on Friday asking for a response to the complaint. The call was not returned immediately. Flowers seeks an undisclosed amount of money in the case, which a jury will decide. “Curtis Flowers should never have been prosecuted,” stated Rob McDuff of the Mississippi Center for Justice in a press release on Friday.
Flowers was sentenced in March to $500,000 for wrongful incarceration, the highest amount allowed under a state statute that allows up to $50,000 per year for ten years. Flowers’ lawyers claim this does not prevent him from suing the district attorney and investigators. According to Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, flowers will not be prosecuted for the seventh time, as prosecutors no longer had reliable witnesses, and the evidence was too weak for another trial. Fitch entered office in January 2020, and when Evans stepped down, he took over the case.
On July 16, 1996, four people were shot at Tardy Furniture in Winona. Bertha Tardy, 59, and three workers were killed: Carmen Rigby, 45, Robert Golden, 42, and Derrick “Bobo” Stewart, 16 years old. Stewart died approximately a week after Tardy, Rigby, and Golden perished at the site. Flowers is still believed to have been the murderer by relatives of several victims. Flowers’ lawyers claim he is innocent.
According to McDuff, flowers, who was 26 at the time, had no criminal past, and the murders “were obviously the work of experienced criminals.” “Racial prejudice and persistent misconduct contaminated the prosecution throughout,” McDuff stated. “This lawsuit seeks redress for the wrongdoing.”
Flowers was convicted four times in the murders, twice in individual murders, and again in all four. Two previous cases in which all four people died resulted in mistrials. His convictions were all reversed. The “In the Dark” of American Public Media investigated the matter, which led to the Supreme Court decision of 2019. Odell Hallmon, a prison informant, recanted his evidence that Flowers had confessed to him in 2017 and 2018. In subsequent cases, Hallmon’s confession tale was used as evidence, but he told the program from behind bars that his statement was “a lot of delusions, a bunch of lying.”
The podcast also contained an analysis that revealed Evans’ “long history of racial prejudice in jury selection, as well as evidence that another man may have committed the murders. Flowers was transferred from the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman to a regional prison after the Supreme Court decision in June 2019. As the original murder charge was still ongoing, he remained in prison until a judge granted him bail in December.
Winona is located on Interstate 55, Mississippi’s main north-south highway, and US Highway 82, which travels east-west. About a half-hour drive from the Mississippi Delta’s flats. About 54% of its 4,300 inhabitants are black, while 41% are white.