Criminal Justice

State AG drops case against Black man who faced 6 murder trials and spent 23 years in prison

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After six murder trials that ended with overturned convictions or mistrials, prosecutors in Mississippi announced Friday that they were dropping the case against Curtis Flowers.

Flowers, a Black man who was accused of killing four people inside a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi, in 1996 and spent about 23 years in prison, was convicted and sentenced to death in the most recent trial.

His conviction was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which held in 2019 that the white prosecutor, Fifth Circuit District Attorney Doug Evans, unconstitutionally excluded Black people from serving on the jury.

In its motion to dismiss the indictment against Flowers, which was published by American Public Media Reports and verified by CNN, the Mississippi attorney general’s office said, “it is in the interest of justice that the State will not seek an unprecedented seventh trial of Mr. Flowers.”

The Mississippi Clarion Ledger, the New York Times and NPR also have coverage.

“Today I am finally free from the injustice that left me locked in a box for nearly 23 years,” Flowers, who is now 50, said in a statement. “I’ve been asked if I ever thought this day would come. I have been blessed with a family that never gave up on me and with them by my side, I knew it would.”

Flowers was released on bond and returned to his family in December 2019. Evans recused himself from the case in January, and it went to the Mississippi attorney general’s office for review.

According to its motion, “as the evidence stands today, there’s no key prosecution witness that incriminates Mr. Flowers who is alive and available and has not had multiple, conflicting statements in the record.”

The attorney general’s office referred to one witness who claimed that Flowers confessed to the crime while in jail but later admitted that he lied. That witness, Odell Hallmon, who was the only witness who offered direct evidence of Flowers’ guilt, recanted his story in an interview with the 2018 American Public Media Reports podcast In the Dark.

Rob McDuff, a lawyer for Flowers, told the New York Times that the case against his client “never made sense.”

“As time went by, even more evidence emerged to corroborate his innocence,” he said. “This prosecution was flawed from the beginning and was tainted throughout by racial discrimination. It should never have occurred and lasted far too long, but we are glad it is finally over.”

See also:

ABA Journal: “Documentaries are shaping public opinion and influencing cases”

ABA Journal: “Class action says Mississippi’s DA’s office has a pattern of wrongfully excluding black jurors”

ABA Journal: “Bias in jury selection is back before Supreme Court; is ‘OJ strategy’ a Batson violation?”

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