Curtis Flowers was tried six times for the murders of four people in the small northern Mississippi town of Winona. The murders at the local Tardy Furniture Store occurred on July 16, 1996. The 26-year-old African-American Flowers was arrested for the murders several months later. The evidence against him was circumstantial at best. Flowers staunchly maintained his innocence from the moment of arrest.
Flowers was tried six times for the capital murders and convicted each time. Four of those convictions came from all-white jurors, all of which were reversed for scores of legal and constitutional violations by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The other two convictions were reversed by federal courts—the last by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 21, 2019, in a 7-2 majority decision. He spent 23 years in prison before State finally dismissed the charges.
Sordid History of Prosecutorial Misconduct
Flowers was prosecuted each time by a District Attorney Doug Evans, who has a sordid public record as a racist who engages in prosecutorial misconduct as casually as one changes a shirt. In a December 2019 Law360 article titled “Scott Free: What Happens when Prosecutors Behave Badly,” Cara Bayles reported that Evans has “engaged in a slew of misconduct for 22 years” in the Flowers case without the slightest professional accountability.
Evans remains district attorney in Montgomery County, Mississippi, to this very day. He ran unopposed last year. The veteran district attorney has a legal history of systematically violating the constitutional rights of Montgomery County African-Americans by excluding them from jury service as he did four times in the Flowers case. This blatant history of racism makes the charge credible that an investigator in Evans’ office, John Johnson, “fabricated evidence” that led to Flowers being tried and convicted in the Tardy Furniture Store murders.
Mississippi AG Covers for Racist DA
On September 4, 2020, the State of Mississippi announced it was dismissing all the charges against Flowers. The decision to dismiss the charges was made by Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who assumed prosecutorial control of the case after Evans withdrew from the case earlier this year. When Evans decided to call it quits in the Flowers case this past January, then-Attorney General Jim Hood had this to say:
“Doug Evans has been an honest lawman and prosecutor for as long as I can remember. My personal two-bits is the facts are sufficient for the case to be retried [a seventh time]. Appellate courts are made up of humans, just like us all. In extremely rare cases, I have seen them allow emotions to overcome logic in tough cases.”
Mississippi Attorney General Fitch did not have much more to say in the wake of her decision to dismiss the Flowers case charges. In the court filing requesting dismissal of the charges, Fitch informed the state district court: “As the evidence stands today, there is no key prosecution witness … who is alive and available and has not had multiple, conflicting statements in the record.”
In effect, Fitch informed the court that the evidence does not exonerate Flowers; rather, it merely makes it impossible to retry him a seventh time.
Defense Attorney Decries White Supremacy in Judicial System
Undeterred by the attorney general’s lack of support for “actual innocence” in the case, Henderson Hill, one of Flowers’ attorneys, said after the dismissal:
“Today’s dismissal, along with the Supreme Court decision in Curtis Flowers’ appeal last year, vindicates one innocent Black American, a gentleman of immense character.” The attorney said the dismissal, regardless of its legal reasons, represents a movement for “racial equity to replace white supremacy as our justice system’s organizing principle.”
SCOTUS Finds Discriminatory Intent
This statement coincides with the conclusion drawn by Justice Brett Kavanaugh in that Supreme Court last year that Evans’ racist “history” in the Flowers case simply could not be ignored. Kavanaugh, who wrote the Court’s opinion, noted that the history of discrimination in the previous trials, which DA Evans repeated in the sixth trial, demonstrated his jury strikes were motivated by discriminatory intent. The Court noted that Evans “wanted to try Flowers before a jury with as few black as possible, and ideally an all-white jury.”
The evidence in the public record convinces us that Curtis Flowers is an innocent man; he spent nearly 23 years in the Mississippi prison system because of systemic racism, as evidenced by Doug Evans’ relentless and racist prosecution of the case six times. The State of Mississippi not only lost its ability to retry Flowers for the seventh time, but it also lost the right to do so in any legitimate or credible way because of the blatant prosecutorial racism that infected the case for more than two decades by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.
Any means of redress available to Flowers in the wake of the dismissal are remote at best. Evans enjoys absolute immunity from civil liability for his intentional constitutional violations in the prosecution of Flowers. Given the statements made by AG Wood, it is also unlikely Evans will suffer any professional discipline for his misconduct.
We can only hope that now, as a free man, Flowers can rescue the rest of his life and that his case will stand as an everlasting reminder of both the danger and harm systemic racism imposes on our justice system. It remains to be seen whether the residents of Montgomery County, Mississippi, will remove DA Evans and moved forward towards a civilized criminal justice system.