For the past 24 years, the families of Bertha Tardy, Carmen Rigby, Robert Golden, and Derrick “BoBo” Stewart have sought justice for their loved ones who were brutally gunned down in Tardy Furniture on July 16, 1996. However, on September 4, 2020, according to the son of one of the victims, the families were stunned when Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch filed a motion with the court to dismiss the capital murder indictment against Curtis Giovanni Flowers, the man charged with the murders and tried six times without a conviction that withstood appeal.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge Joseph Loper, Jr., granted the attorney general’s motion. No hearing was held to hear arguments for or against the motion.
Brian Rigby, son of Carmen Rigby, expressed his anger and confusion over Fitch’s decision to have the charges dismissed against Flowers. After six trials and 22 years, he wants answers as to why Fitch requested the indictment be dismissed with prejudice, preventing prosecutors from charging Flowers again for the murders.
“These people deserve justice,” Rigby said. “How can you just turn and walk away from that?”
So what is next in the families’ quest for justice for the four victims? Rigby said since Fitch’s decision, the families have been “collecting our thoughts and seeking a lot of legal advice to see where we go from here.”
According to Rigby, the families of the victims have not lost their resolve in seeking justice for the four victims.
Over the course of 22 years, Flowers was tried six times for the murders at Tardy Furniture. Convictions in the first three trials were overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The first trial was overturned because, according to the written opinion, District Attorney Doug Evans “improperly employed a tactic or trial strategy of trying Flowers for all four murders during this trial for the murder of [Bertha] Tardy alone, which we cannot say did not inflame and prejudice the jury.” Trials two and three were overturned due to the prosecution’s failure to give “race-neutral” reasons for striking jurors, also known as a Batson violation.
Trials four and five ended in hung juries, and the conviction in trial six, in 2010, was upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court but was overturned in June 2019 by the U.S. Supreme Court. According to the Supreme Court’s ruling, due to the history of racial discrimination in jury selection, the court found “the state’s use of peremptory strikes in Flowers’ sixth trial followed the same pattern as the first four trials.”
On January 7, 2020, District Attorney Doug Evans, who had led the prosecution in all six capital murder trials against Curtis Flowers, recused himself from the case. The recusal came after Flowers’ defense team filed a motion with the court asking that Evans step down from the case. In his motion for recusal, Evans asked the court to appoint the Attorney General’s office to prosecute the case. Loper granted that request.
Fitch was elected as Mississippi’s attorney general in last November’s general election and was sworn into office on January 9, 2020.
Rigby said the victims’ families met with Fitch on January 29 in Tupelo to discuss the case.
“[Fitch] said she didn’t know a lot about the case, but she said she would do everything in her power to seek justice for the victims,” Rigby said. “We were told that no expense or effort would be lacking. Everything about the meeting was reassuring.”
Rigby said he was looking forward to “a fresh set of eyes” looking at the case for future prosecution.
“I was really hopeful,” said Rigby.
However, on September 4 the victims’ families were told by representatives from the Attorney General’s office that there would be no seventh trial.
Rigby said the families were not told the charges were being dismissed or that they were being dismissed with prejudice. That, he said, he learned from media reports later that day.
Rigby said family members began to question those present from the Attorney General’s office about Fitch’s reasons not to retry the case, however, they did not get answers.
“We were pleading with them,” Rigby said. “Asking ‘what do you have to lose for trying the case a seventh time?’ It was very frustrating to say the least. You would expect a lot of explaining. It was almost like ‘lip-service.’”
Rigby said he and the other family members present were under the impression the Attorney General’s representatives would go back to Fitch and voice their concerns. However, not long after the meeting, news of the dismissal were being reported by the media.
“That is how we learned the charges were dismissed without prejudice,” Rigby said. “I felt like we [the victims’ families] were just an after-thought.”
According to the motion, 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 prison 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.”
After the dismissal, the Attorney General’s office would not comment on the case. Colby Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Attorney General’s office, stated, “As a general rule, General Fitch intends to refrain from seeking media coverage on individual prosecutions in an effort to de-sensationalize this very serious process for the individuals involved. The families here deserve that respect.”
Rigby said the families’ questions about the dismissal and the future of the investigation into the murders have so far been unanswered.
“I’ve spent a lot of my time trying to get some answers from the Attorney General,” Rigby said. “We are trying to figure out what our options are, but without cooperation from the Attorney General and the office’s refusal to communicate with you -- that can be difficult.”
The Attorney General’s office did not respond to questions about the future of this case by press time Wednesday.