By Amanda Sexton Ferguson
Editor and Publisher
After nearly 23 years, Curtis Giovanni Flowers walked out of the Winston County jail this afternoon, free on $250,000 bail.
Judge Joseph Loper, Jr., handed down the order setting bail after hearing arguments in Montgomery County Circuit Court this 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, court proceedings, and 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, in a Winona furniture store 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.”
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.
“[Flowers] is really looking forward to spending time with his family,” McDuff said.
When asked how the court allowing bail would affect the case, McDuff said it takes pressure off of the defense and allows them to “slow down.”
“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."
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 this morning and did not make an appearance in the courtroom, tapping Assistant District Attorney William 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 this 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.
For more on this story, see Thursday’s Winona Times.