After six trials and nearly 23 years, the state’s case against Curtis Giovanni Flowers for capital murder in the shooting deaths of four people at a Winona furniture store is over. This afternoon, Circuit Judge Joseph Loper, Jr., signed a petition submitted by Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch to dismiss the indictment against Flowers with prejudice.
Flowers was most recently convicted in 2010 for the murders of Bertha Tardy, 59, Carmen Rigby, 45, Robert Golden, 42, and Derrick “Bobo” Stewart, 16, at Tardy Furniture in Winona on July 16, 1996. The conviction was overturned in June 2019 by the U.S. Supreme Court, sending it back to the lower court.
The 2010 trial was Flowers’ sixth trial for the murders, with the first three convictions overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court and trials four and five ending in mistrials when the jury could not come to a unanimous verdict on guilt or innocence.
In December 2019, after hearing arguments in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Loper granted bail of $250,000 for Flowers, who spent nearly 23 years behind bars. Bond was posted by an anonymous donor, and Flowers walked out of the Winston County Jail on December 16, 2019.
According to the motion to dismiss, after an independent review of the evidence, “there is no key prosecution witness that incriminates Mr. Flowers who is alive and available and has not had multiple, conflicting statements in the record. Additionally, this Court took judicial notice that another witness who testified against Mr. Flowers in the past, was later convicted of multiple counts of federal income tax fraud; she is now deceased. Several other material witnesses are also dead and unavailable to testify about the events that occurred twenty-four years ago.”
The motion noted that the “only witness who offered direct evidence of guilt,” Odell Hollman, recanted his testimony in interviews with reporters from American Public Media. Hollman told the reporters he lied about Flowers confessing to him while the two were inmates in the same facility.
In addition, the motion stated that “the court was made aware of alternative suspects with violent criminal histories, as well as possible exculpatory evidence not previously considered.”
Rob McDuff, director of Mississippi Center for Justice’s George Riley Impact Litigation Project, and Henderson Hill, an attorney from Charlotte, N.C., joined the Flowers defense team after the 2010 conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court and sent back to Montgomery County Circuit Court for a new trial. McDuff and Hill represented Flowers at December’s bail hearing.
In a statement issued by McDuff, Flowers stated, “Today, I am finally free from the injustice that left me locked in a box for twenty three years. I want to say that I believe there are other men, men that I met on the row, whose cases deserve to be heard and considered. 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. With their love, staying in the word of God, with the determination of my legal team, and the countless letters and words from my supporters, the day I’ve prayed for is here at last.”
Through McDuff, the Flowers family issued the following statement:
“We are so happy and blessed that the weight of this case has finally been lifted from Curtis’ shoulders. We have prayed for this day and are looking forward to the future knowing that our brother will not be going back to prison. We know our Mom is looking down and our only wish is that she could have been here to welcome Curtis home. We ask for everyone to respect our wish for privacy and time to reconnect and look forward to talking more soon. Thank you all for your love, prayer and support.”
Vangela M. Wade, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice stated in a release, “This is a monumental victory. Over the past year, the Mississippi Center for Justice represented Curtis Flowers and helped to bring about a favorable conclusion of this tragic case. Today the burden of further injustice has been lifted from Mr. Flowers, but fair treatment in our criminal justice system should never require the extraordinary resources behind this long-delayed outcome.”
District Attorney Doug Evans, who voluntarily recused himself from the case on January 7, said he received a call from the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office informing him of their decision to request the dismissal of the charges.
“They told me they were not going to retry it,” Evans said. “It is out of my hands at this point. We got [the attorney general’s office] everything we had and they had to decide where to go with it.”
Evans led the prosecution for all six trials. In an interview with The Winona Times in January, Evans said his decision to recuse himself was his way of taking the focus off of him and placing it back on the four victims in the case.
“They were trying to make everything about me,” Evans said. “Nothing in the case has ever been about me. It was about the victims. It is easier for someone else to come in and present the facts and get a conviction.”
For more on this story, see Thursday’s edition of The Winona Times.