Why Curtis Flowers?
Institutionalized Corruption within Law Enforcement
Accused of four counts of murder, on death row, and has won all six of his appeals? Curtis Flower's has been tried six times for the same crime (the third most tried case in USA) and with enough evidence to set him free, the power of the DA has impacted Curtis Flower's right to a free trial. He maintains his innocence and through the power of family and music, he has his sights set on being released one day. I also hope to see Curtis Flower's a free man sooner than later.
I love hearing true crime cases to better understand how individuals are deemed guilty or not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and in the beginning, I was not convinced of Flowers guilt or innocence. That being said, I am surprised to see human error play such a huge role in the decision to incriminate individual lives. A common thread in falsely accused victims is institutionalized corruption within a system we are taught to trust, value and use in emergency situations. Curtis Flower's, from Winona, Mississippi, is one of those lives that has been subject to erroneous claims by Winona County's investigator John Johnson and DA (District Attorney) Doug Evans.
One summer morning in July of 1996, four employees, from local store Tardy Furniture, were murdered. They had been shot to death and left laying inside the store until found by an employee who arrived after the tragedy took place. Curtis Flower's is connected to the store because he was a former employee who stopped showing up for work. Prosecutors twisted this fact into saying he was fired in order to pin him with motive of a revenge murder. He is on trial for four counts of murder, facing the death penalty despite having won each of his appeals.
The evidence of the case is manipulated for us to believe Curtis Flowers is the right man behind bars. That is what DA Doug Evans has worked so hard to do. However, it is worth taking a closer look at the evidence considering the same man has been tried six times! The USA Supreme Court has remanded Curtis Flowers four times due to racial bias in the jury selection process and there's been two hung juries. This means the case has been sent back to lower courts to review evidence and re-try the accused. One caveat is that Curtis has to remain detained until the next trial. A hung jury happens when the jury cannot come to an unanimous decision, and so a new jury must be selected. The podcast by APM Reports, In the Dark, gathers data on how the evidence collected by the investigators points to other, more plausible suspects, bribed witness statements, racist jury member selection, and an overall misuse of power.
Witnesses who originally testified to seeing Curtis Flowers that morning have either changed or recanted their story, expressed fear of being imprisoned or accused of a crime, had false alibis, and one shared that he was bribed for lighter punishment to the list of crimes he has already been imprisoned for. What can one take from this? That the DA used these witnesses fully aware that he had power to scratch their back, if they scratched his. Lacking knowledge of the legal system created a fear, in some, that made them agree with and falsely place Curtis Flowers at the crime scene. One witness, Clemmie Flemings, recently recanted her statement admitting she "was confused of the day from the beginning and didn't know how to say it." She even says she'd been telling them (the investigators) the whole time that she didn't know. She was simply scared of going to jail. Now, knowing her legal rights and impact, she has come forth to correct this error. Another witness, Odell Hallmon, was never shy to admit that he told DA Doug Evans what the prosecutor needed in order to get leniency for his own crimes, a fact that was never shared with the jury. He has recanted his statement after testifying in four trials against Curtis. It comes as a surprise that DA Doug Evans is unaware that coercing and bribing witness statements is illegal and literally creates false evidence. Now that two of the most important prosecuting witnesses have recanted their statements and with a potential seventh trial pending, Curtis is a step closer to the fair trial he deserves.
Another key piece of evidence that points to Curtis Flower's innocence is the murder weapon, and excluding the interrogation done on witness Willie James Hemphill. APM reporters found the DA's office may have violated a Brady right, meaning, "the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilty or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution." Evidence cannot be withheld if it is trial altering and/or good for the accused. Ignorance does not excuse withholding evidence. There are three potentially trial altering occasions/pieces of evidence that took place, but were never shared anywhere in the six trials:
1. The murder weapon
A suspicious story that would alter and be beneficial to the trial if the DA's office did not have a hand in its disappearance. Jeffery Armstrong, five years after the murders, found a .380 automatic pistol (matches the bullets found at the crime scene) in a crawl space under his house, a mere 700 feet from the crime scene. He walks reporters through the logical route the murderer (probably) took, from the store to across the street, through a small opening in a drainage ditch which leads onto Mr. Armstrong's property. He turned the gun over to police, which made its way to the DA's office. The gun has never been seen again and its current whereabouts are still unknown. Jeffery Armstrong has no motive to give a false statement regarding what he found, although a statement was never taken. He has no criminal background, no fear from the law, and no connection to the case as a whole. It begs the question as to why the DA's office is hell-bent on maintaining the guilt of Curtis Flowers. So hell-bent that they ridded the murder weapon, which would otherwise be used for further developments in clearly understanding how four people were murdered that summer morning. Since the evidence has disappeared, it is not something that can be used to interpret a violation of a Brady right. See the main photo for reference to the route.
2. Photo Lineups
Once relied on for eye-witness testimony, this practice is now labelled with growing suspicion of its effectiveness. Attached with a list of criteria in choosing the photos in the lineup, it is difficult to eliminate human error when clearly remembering details of a particular moment; which at the time, were not meaningful moments. The photo lineup criteria was not met as investigators lingered around the witnesses (a proven distraction in false identification) and included a picture of Marcus Presley, a criminal who murdered four people and wounded three in a spree of robberies that year in Alabama. The criteria states, "there should be nothing suggestive—you don't want the suspect to match the description better than anybody else" and that "they must be known innocents." With investigators distracting the witnesses and the use of a known criminal, there is no question that this method of picking out the accused did not meet the criteria and lacks quality. It creates doubt in the witness's statements and memory, which is enough to say, beyond a reasonable doubt, Curtis Flowers was falsely identified in the line-up.
3. Willie James Hemphill
A career criminal claims he was a serious suspect after the murders, but why wasn't he ever mentioned as a suspect? He told reporters that he was interviewed (about the murders) for a couple of hours, investigators had recorded his statements, photographed and examined his shoes and fingerprinted him. A witness had seen Hemphill near Tardy Furniture on the day of the crime, and he walked into Winona jail wearing Fila Grant Hill sneakers, the same type that had left a bloody footprint at the scene. Sheriff Bubba Nix, recalled Hemphill was held for 11 days, but the reason is unclear. Accordingly, paperwork would generate from processing Hemphill, which was never turned over by the prosecution. In addition, Hemphill has given an alibi for the day of the murders, claiming to be at a shopping mall with one of his friends. When his friend was asked, she clearly states she was not with him that day. She gives detailed information on what she was doing on that day and why she knows she was not with Hemphill. A more plausible suspect? I'd say so. This is information that will be reviewed to determine a Brady Violation. Would this evidence have altered the trial proceedings and the jury's decision? It is certainly suspicious that this evidence was withheld and that there is missing records from when Willie James Hemphill was processed, potentially, for the murders at Tardy Furniture.
Did the DA's office let go of all suspects that were already career criminals assuming they will be back in jail at one point or another? Did they make this an opportunity to put another innocent black male behind bars? Following this story makes me question the true goal of law enforcement, especially in a town known for racism against black people to this day. A simple google search of "Mississippi and racism" yields current articles about people and groups fighting racism and for rights as black people. Could racism be the entire reason for Curtis Flowers's lack of a fair trial?
Through further investigation, it was uncovered that black prospective jurors were excluded at a much higher rate than whites. Information on more than 6,700 jurors in 225 trials, during Doug Evans' tenure as the top prosecutor in Mississippi's Fifth Circuit Court District, found that his office struck black people at 4.5 times the rate it struck white people. APM reporter's performed the most comprehensive investigation into race in jury selection in all of the United States to prove bias in the jury selection process of Curtis Flower's case. Detailed data, methodology and source notes are shared here.
So, why Curtis? In looking at all of the presented evidence, there is no direct evidence linking Curtis Flowers to the murders that took place. There are false and non-credible witness statements, which were gathered illegally and through methods no longer accepted in investigative practices. Even still, does this prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Curtis Flowers is the criminal mastermind behind these brutal murders? Curtis and Bertha Tardy (owner of the store) had a good relationship despite Curtis's lack of interest in working for their store. He was grateful for the opportunity and had a clear alibi, babysitting his girlfriend's child the morning of the murders. He cooperated per request of the investigators and never incriminated himself purposely or accidentally. So, why Curtis? Could the DA's office be so racist, to simply find pride in putting another black man behind prison regardless of the presence of a true crime?
Why did DA Doug Evans strike any evidence from the records if certain of Curtis Flowers's guilt? Why didn't the murder weapon get processed for DNA, prints, or other evidence that would more clearly outline what happened the day of these brutal murders? If Curtis Flowers is guilty, why are there so many points of contention that point to Flowers innocence? Does the evidence here convince you beyond a reasonable doubt that Curtis Flower's is guilty? Does it convince you beyond a reasonable doubt that he is innocent?
His life is in the hands of the state, and believing his innocence, I look forward to his release. The genuine feeling of justice will never be fulfilled until the misuse of power is found punishable and those misusing their powers are actually punished.