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Prosecutor could decide on seventh trial in Mississippi case

A Mississippi prosecutor has tried and failed six times to send Curtis Flowers to the death chamber.

Posted: Jun 22, 2019 4:03 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi prosecutor has tried and failed six times to send Curtis Flowers to the death chamber, with the latest trial conviction and death sentence overturned on Friday because of racial bias in jury selection. Now, that same prosecutor must decide whether to try Flowers a seventh time.

Doug Evans, who’s running unopposed this year for an eighth four-year term as district attorney for a seven-county swath of rural northern Mississippi, has shown no inclination to give up.

Flowers is accused of killing four people, execution-style, in a furniture store in 1996 in the town of Winona. Evans has tried Flowers six times, with four convictions overturned and two other cases ended in mistrials.

Evans’ efforts to keep black jurors off of Flowers’ case were at the center of Flowers’ appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In an opinion by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the court ruled 7-2 on Friday that during more than 20 years, Evans pursued a “relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals,” with the goal of an all-white jury.

“The numbers speak loudly,” Kavanaugh said in a summary of his opinion that he read in the courtroom, noting that Evans had removed 41 of the 42 prospective black jurors over the six trials. “We cannot ignore that history.”

Evans didn’t return an email seeking comment Friday, and phones at his office in Grenada went unanswered. He told reporters for American Public Media’s “In the Dark” podcast that he hadn’t decided whether to try Flowers again, but remained confident of his guilt.

“There’s no question about (Flowers’) guilt. There never has been,” Evans told the podcast. “Courts are just like me and you. Everybody’s got opinions.”

He disputes the high court’s conclusion that he sought to exclude black jurors

“If they said that, that is not true,” Evans told the podcast.

The case began July 16, 1996, when four people were found shot to death inside Tardy Furniture in downtown Winona: 59-year-old owner Bertha Tardy and three employees — 45-year-old Carmen Rigby, 42-year-old Robert Golden and 16-year-old Derrick “Bobo” Stewart.

Months later, authorities arrested Flowers for the slayings. Prosecutors say he was a disgruntled former employee who sought revenge because Tardy fired him and withheld most of his pay to cover the cost of merchandise he damaged. Nearly $300 was missing after the killings.

Relatives of the victims are steadfast that Flowers is the killer.

“There is no justice,” Carmen Rigby’s widower, Benny Rigby, told the Clarion Ledger on Friday. “If he was white, he would have been executed by now.”

The defense, however, says it’s not just that jury selection was flawed — it’s that Flowers is innocent. They say witness statements and physical evidence against Flowers are too weak to convict him. A jailhouse informant who claimed Flowers had confessed to him recanted in recorded telephone conversations with “In the Dark.” Those reporters also turned up at least one possible other suspect whose existence was never disclosed to defense lawyers.

Flowers’ lawyers in a separate state court appeal were also raising questions about evidence, meaning the prosecution could face a stronger defense in a seventh trial.

Friday’s Supreme Court ruling could also enable the now-49-year-old Flowers to get out from behind bars for the first time since his arrest, even if there is another trial. Many Mississippi judges are reluctant to grant bail to defendants in cases where the death penalty is on the line. But a little-known state law says a judge must set bail in cases where there have been two mistrials on an indictment charging someone with a capital crime.

“There’s a strong argument that the statute requires bail to be set for Mr. Flowers,” said Tom Fortner, a prominent Mississippi defense lawyer who has cited that law in another case.

Defense attorneys could also seek to remove Evans and state court Judge Joseph Loper from the case. The defense asked Loper to recuse himself in the 2010 trial, claiming he was biased because he had ordered two jurors arrested for perjury at the end of the 2008 trial. Loper refused.

“The remedy might be the defense files a motion to force the DA to be recused because of misconduct,” Fortner said. “Then the court would have to appoint another prosecutor.”

During oral arguments , Supreme Court justices asked why Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood hadn’t intervened. But Hood contends he can’t take over for Evans unless Evans invites him. Hood’s office has the power to prosecute some kinds of cases directly, such as white collar crime or child pornography. But some case law suggests he can’t barge in on other types of cases without permission from the local district attorney.

“It will be up to the DA as to whether to re-evaluate or retry,” Hood said Friday in Biloxi. “I’m confident that the Supreme Court’s comments will be followed. I don’t have the authority to go take a case away from a DA.”

If Evans steps away or is recused, Hood said he would prefer that another district attorney be named to try the case, citing the small number of prosecutors in his office. Hood, a Democrat and former small-town district attorney who’s running for governor, said he hadn’t talked to Evans.

“I think Doug will follow what the U.S. Supreme Court’s directives are ...,” Hood said. “I don’t want to come out like I’m saying Doug ought to recuse himself. Please make that clear.”

___

Associated Press writer Emily Wagster Pettus in Biloxi, Mississippi, contributed to this report.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 94573

Reported Deaths: 2870
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7032159
DeSoto547759
Harrison380573
Jackson343069
Madison323386
Rankin322577
Lee265468
Jones245279
Forrest242571
Washington219772
Lafayette213739
Lauderdale2038125
Bolivar181366
Oktibbeha176350
Lamar165534
Neshoba1556104
Panola145527
Lowndes144958
Sunflower143946
Warren138450
Leflore138381
Pontotoc124916
Pike122450
Monroe120768
Scott117126
Copiah116633
Coahoma114428
Holmes109558
Marshall108516
Lincoln107553
Grenada107236
Yazoo104630
Simpson101844
Union98824
Tate96237
Leake94638
Adams92637
Wayne88821
Pearl River87053
Marion84535
Prentiss83417
Covington81322
Itawamba78721
Alcorn78611
Newton76723
Tallahatchie76421
George75913
Winston73519
Chickasaw66724
Tishomingo66738
Tippah65417
Attala65325
Walthall59525
Clay58518
Hancock57221
Clarke57045
Jasper56215
Noxubee54616
Smith52914
Calhoun50812
Tunica48213
Claiborne45916
Montgomery45820
Lawrence42912
Yalobusha42314
Perry41618
Humphreys37515
Quitman3735
Stone36512
Greene35917
Jefferson Davis33511
Webster33313
Amite32110
Carroll31412
Wilkinson30218
Kemper28815
Sharkey26513
Jefferson2449
Benton2232
Franklin1923
Choctaw1816
Issaquena1043
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 132452

Reported Deaths: 2335
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19306349
Mobile13233291
Montgomery8748177
Madison770978
Tuscaloosa7418116
Lee579261
Shelby578750
Baldwin514149
Marshall389244
Etowah340247
Calhoun340140
Morgan323926
Houston276423
Elmore259647
DeKalb237519
St. Clair226337
Walker225383
Talladega210628
Limestone203319
Cullman186818
Dallas175926
Franklin175229
Russell17322
Autauga171525
Lauderdale167333
Colbert162926
Blount158015
Escambia157725
Jackson154011
Chilton152431
Dale134644
Covington133427
Coffee12988
Pike11799
Chambers114442
Tallapoosa113885
Clarke107017
Marion95429
Butler91139
Barbour8517
Winston71812
Marengo70519
Lowndes65227
Pickens64514
Bibb63810
Randolph62713
Hale61928
Lawrence60522
Bullock59714
Geneva5864
Cherokee58315
Monroe5808
Clay5547
Washington55113
Perry5396
Conecuh53011
Wilcox53011
Crenshaw52732
Henry4835
Macon47920
Fayette4358
Sumter43219
Lamar3572
Choctaw34412
Cleburne3356
Greene30315
Coosa1673
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