Mississippi murder case witness in 4 trials recants on tape

A key witness in a disputed Mississippi murder case that's been through six trials is recanting on his claim that the defendant confessed to him.

Posted: May 30, 2018 9:45 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A key witness in a disputed Mississippi murder case that's been through six trials is recanting on his claim that the defendant confessed to him.

Odell Hallmon has told American Public Media's In the Dark podcast that his testimony saying defendant Curtis Giovanni Flowers confessed is "a bunch of fantasies, a bunch of lying."

"As far as him telling me he killed some people, hell naw, he ain't ever told me that. That was a lie," Hallmon said in the episode released Tuesday. "I don't know nothing about this .... It was all make-believe. Everything was all make-believe on my part."

Hallmon himself is imprisoned on three murder convictions and spoke to the podcast via a contraband cellphone. American Public Media spokeswoman Kelly Reller said Hallmon recanted multiple times between October and January.

Now 42, Hallmon is a central figure in a decades-long murder case that began in July 1996 when Tardy Furniture Store owner Bertha Tardy and three employees — Robert Golden, Carmen Rigby and Derrick Stewart — were each shot in the head.

Authorities eventually charged Flowers, who had worked a brief time in the store, saying he stole cash and shot the four. But the case has long been under intense scrutiny, with disputes about the credibility of the witnesses and claims that prosecutors acted improperly. Three of Flowers' trials ended in convictions that were overturned on appeal. Two other trials end in hung juries before he was convicted and sentenced to death in the sixth trial in 2010.

Prosecutors had originally called as witnesses two men who were jailed with Flowers in Greenwood and claimed he had confessed to them, but each later recanted. Hallmon had originally testified for the defense, claiming that his sister who testified against Flowers was lying. But Hallmon later switched sides, saying he lied the first time. He testified at the most recent four trials that Flowers confessed to killing the people in 1997 when both Hallmon and Flowers were inmates at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

Hallmon told the podcast that two drug charges were dropped against him after he communicated with District Attorney Doug Evans and agreed to switch sides. He also claimed that Evans helped him avoid prosecution for some later crimes.

"I helped them, they helped me," Hallmon told the podcast. "That's what it all boiled down to."

Evans has denied that Hallmon received anything in exchange for his testimony. Evans and state Attorney General Jim Hood didn't immediately respond Wednesday to phone calls seeking comment.

The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the conviction at the sixth trial in 2014. Then, in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court told state justices to review whether there was discrimination in how some black people were excluded as potential jurors. Flowers is African-American, as was one of the people killed. The other three killed were white. In November, state justices ruled 5-4 that they found no discrimination in jury selection.

Tucker Carrington, a University of Mississippi law professor who represents Flowers, said Wednesday that Flowers' lawyers plan to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to again examine the jury selection issue. Flowers also has a separate appeal pending before the Mississippi Supreme Court asking judges to examine new evidence. That could include new statements by Hallmon and other witnesses. However, he said there's no guarantee the statements will lead to an overturned conviction.

"I think as a legal matter, it's a little bit different because you're constrained by procedure," Carrington said.

Hallmon pleaded guilty in 2016 to three counts of first degree murder, one count of aggravated assault and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The pleas came only two weeks after the shooting deaths of Hallmon's former girlfriend, 32-year-old Marquita Hill, and her mother, 59-year-old Carolyn Ann Sanders. Hallmon also fired a shot into a closet where his and Marquita Hill's 12-year-old son was hiding. Later the same night, authorities say Hallmon shot and killed 32-year-old Kenneth Loggins and shot and wounded Marcus Brown.

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