After 23 years in jail, Curtis Giovanni Flowers walked out of the Winston County jail Monday afternoon, free on $250,000 bail.
Judge Joseph Loper, Jr., handed down the order setting bail after hearing arguments in Montgomery County Circuit Court Monday morning. The bail order also requires Flowers to be electronically monitored on house arrest, which prevents him from leaving the place where he will be staying with the exceptions of receiving medical treatment or attending court proceedings or meetings with his legal team.
“[The order] makes me want to shout with joy,” Archie Lee Flowers, Flowers’ father, told members of the media following the hearing.
Flowers’ 2010 conviction for the 1996 murders of Bertha Tardy, 59; Carmen Rigby, 45; Robert Golden, 42, and Derrick “Bobo” Stewart, 16, at Tardy Furniture in Winona was overturned this past June by the U.S. Supreme Court. The 2010 trial was Flowers’ six 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.
Loper considered two rules of law presented by the defense while rendering the decision about bail for Flowers. Mississippi Code 99-5-35 states that any person tried for a capital offense that resulted in two or more hung juries shall be entitled to bail, which Loper said applies in this case with trials four and five.
In addition, Article III, Section 29 1a of the Mississippi Constitution, states that all defendants should receive bail except for capital offenses when “the proof is evident or presumption great.”
Loper said that since the last trial, several witnesses – Odell Holman, Clemmie Fleming, and Ed McChristian -- have recanted “or drastically changed their previous testimony offered against Mr. Flowers.” Another witness, Patricia Hollman, has been convicted on multiple counts of federal tax fraud, “which will undermine her credibility in a retrial,” according to Loper.
“In the next trial, should one occur, the State of Mississippi is faced with the prospect of having to present a far weaker case to the jury than it has in the past, while having to meet a higher burden of proof than it has ever had to meet,” Loper said. “Considering all these factors, this court is of the opinion that in the least, reasonable doubt as to Mr. Flowers’ guilt can be entertained.”
Flowers leaves jail
After the hearing, defense counsel Rob McDuff said that an “anonymous donor” provided the $25,000 required, 10 percent of the $250,000, to have Flowers released from jail.
At approximately 4 p.m., Flowers, accompanied by his sisters, Priscilla Ward and Charita Baskin, and his defense team, walked out of the regional jail in Louisville.
“I’m so excited, I can’t even think straight,” Flowers told waiting members of the media.
He said the last 22 years have been “rough.”
“Taking it one day at a time, keeping God first – that’s how I got through it.”
Flowers left the jail to, according to Ward, enjoy fried fish while catching up with family.
McDuff said, “[Flowers] is really looking forward to spending time with his family.”
When asked how the court allowing bail would affect the case, McDuff said the order for bail takes pressure off of the defense and allows them to “slow down” as they move forward.
Flowers still has active indictments for the murders of Tardy, Rigby, Golden, and Stewart. However, the defense has entered a motion with the court asking for the case to be dismissed. That motion will be taken up at a later time.
“I believe, quite frankly, they should dismiss the case right now,” McDuff said. “I believe the truth has been hidden for 23 years.”
In an emailed statement, McDuff said, “At the beginning of the new year, we will move forward with our efforts to obtain a dismissal of the charges. This has been a long and costly process, and there is no need to continue wasting taxpayer money on this misguided prosecution that has been plagued by misconduct and racial discrimination. "
Evans chastised by judge
Following his ruling on bail, Loper chastised the district attorney’s office for taking “absolutely no action in furtherance of a prosecution of this case,” even after the court ordered it to do so.
District Attorney Doug Evans did not argue the bail motion in court Monday and did not make an appearance in the courtroom, tapping Assistant District Attorney Adam Hopper to argue the motion. This did not go unnoticed by Loper.
“I want to caution the prosecution that if it continues its dilatory conduct, and/or if it continues to ignore orders issued by this court, the State of Mississippi will reap the whirlwind,” Loper said. “Mr. Hopper, since your boss chose to be somewhere other than here today, I expect you to convey that to him.”
Reached by telephone Monday afternoon, Evans said he was not in Montgomery County Circuit Court this morning because he was “tied up with another case.” However, he said he was surprised by Loper’s order for bail.
Evans stated he has not yet made a decision as to whether he will be involved in a further prosecution of the case, but said a decision from him should be expected after the first of the year.
“I’m discussing with the Attorney General’s office the possibility of them taking it over if I do recuse myself,” Evans said.
McDuff said he would not object if the Mississippi Attorney General’s office took over the prosecution because they “can have an objective analysis” of the case.
Victim’s husband responds to Monday’s ruling
Benny Rigby, husband of the late Carman Rigby, said he and the other victims’ families are devastated by Loper’s ruling.
“We are very disappointed by Judge Loper,” Rigby said. “It was evident that Judge Loper was furious about Doug Evans not being there, and I felt that played into his decision.”
Rigby said he felt Flowers’ bail should have been $250,000 per victim, not total.
“I feel [Loper] tainted the next jury by his statement saying that it would be hard to find [Flowers] guilty in another trial. Even though he presided over the last two trials, it seems to me his decision was also based on media reports and [Flowers’] lawyers’ opinions.”
Rigby said he is also disappointed in Evans for not appearing to argue the motion himself.
“I also feel that Doug Evans let the victims down by not appearing and arguing this case,” Rigby said. “I know he is under a lot of stress at the time, but this was his job – what he was elected to do. It wouldn’t have taken much time out of his day [to come].”
In the fifth trial, the first trial presided over by Loper, two jurors were charged with perjury. One female juror eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months, and charges were dismissed on the second.
“Will [Loper] prosecute those that changed their testimony after six trials?” Rigby asked. “He told the entire courtroom that is was obvious what the defense was trying to do in stacking the jury, and he recommended that [Evans] fight for a change of venue because of that.”
Rigby continued, “Most of all, I am very surprised and disappointed in Judge Loper for giving Curtis Flowers a Christmas present, and throwing the victims under the bus because, in my opinion, he was mad at Doug Evans.”
Rigby thanked the community for its continued prayers and support of his family and the families of Bertha Tardy, Robert Golden, and BoBo Stewart.
“We appreciate all the support through this, and we ask for your continued prayers.”