Mississippi judge grants Curtis Flowers bail after six trials

Mississippi judge grants Curtis Flowers bail after six trials
Curtis Flowers (seated) is eligible for bond after spending 23 years in prison.

Onetime Mississippi death row inmate Curtis Flowers made bail Monday after spending 23 years in prison, despite six murder trials that either resulted in hung juries or saw their convictions later vacated by higher courts.

A black man, Flowers is accused of capital murder in the 1996 killing of four people inside a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi.

Judge Joseph Loper set Flowers’ bail at $250,000. Defense attorneys had requested a bail of no more than $25,000, while prosecutors requested bail be denied. Flowers posted bail hours later, according to the Mississippi Center for Justice, which is helping represent Flowers, and the Winston Choctaw County Regional Correctional Facility.

He will have to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet while he waits to learn if he will be tried a seventh time, the order granting bail says.

Prosecutors allege that Flowers stole a .380-caliber pistol from his uncle’s car and shot Beth Tardy, owner of a local furniture store, and three store employees execution-style on July 16, 1996.

Flowers, 49, once worked for Tardy, and according to prosecutors, killed her because she fired him after docking his pay for damaging a pair of batteries. He killed the other three victims to eliminate any witnesses, prosecutors allege. Tardy and two other victims were white; one was black.

The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned Flowers’ first three convictions, two of which resulted in death sentences, and his next two trials ended in hung juries.

Flowers has been on death row for years following guilty verdicts in his sixth trial, but in June the US Supreme Court said Flowers deserved a new trial because District Attorney Bob Evans, who tried all six cases against Flowers, engaged in unconstitutional racial discrimination by striking African American jurors from the panel.

In reading the high court’s 7-2 decision, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh said prosecutors did not treat white and black prospective jurors equally.

“Equal justice under law requires a criminal trial free of racial discrimination in the jury selection process,” Kavanaugh said, citing the words inscribed on the Supreme Court building’s facade.

In November, four black Attala County residents filed a class-action lawsuit against Evans, who took office in 1992, saying “he and his assistants have employed a policy, custom, or use of discriminatorily striking black jurors with peremptory challenges.”

In the suit, which also includes the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the MacArthur Justice Center, the plaintiffs allege Evans’ office was 4.4 times more likely to remove a black juror than a white one, and the discrepancy was “even more pronounced” when the defendant was black.

Monday’s arguments

Defense attorney Rob McDuff repeatedly cited prosecutorial misconduct in his Monday arguments and further accused Evans’ office of a “pattern of favors” in securing testimony against Flowers. Among them is an instance in which a man — with “a criminal record a mile long” — was accused of aggravated assault against a police officer, he said. The man was granted bail, McDuff said.

“This really was a deal with the devil that the district attorney made, and it is the supreme irony that a district attorney agreed to bail in that case with that man’s record, but is here opposing the bail application of Curtis Flowers,” the defense attorney said.

In addition, McDuff said, key state witnesses have recanted their sworn statements in interviews with producers of a podcast. He said Flowers never had a criminal record and has compiled an exemplary record while in prison, and there is evidence pointing to more likely suspects.

McDuff played a portion of the podcast in court, during which the key witness tells the interviewer of his testimony that Flowers admitted to the murders in prison: “He ain’t never tell me that. That was a lie. … Everything was all make-believe on my part.”

Assistant District Attorney Adam Hopper told Loper the prosecution believes it still has a strong case. The witness statements were recanted to the media, not to prosecutors, he said, and there is other evidence implicating Flowers.

Included is a witness who saw Flowers near the car from which the gun was stolen, a witness who saw Flowers arguing with someone near the furniture store and gunshot residue on Flowers’ hands. Investigators who searched Flowers’ residence found an empty shoebox for sneakers that matched shoeprints found at the crime scene, Hopper added. Also, two of the people the defense claims could be suspects had no motive for the killing, he said.

Loper expressed frustration with the prosecution, saying he was troubled that in the four months that the case has been back before the court, the state has taken “absolutely no action” to further its prosecution of Flowers. It also has declined to respond to motions requesting bail, Evan’s disqualification and the indictment’s dismissal, he said.

The judge warned the prosecutor’s office Monday that if it continued to ignore court orders in the case, “the state of Mississippi will reap the whirlwind.”

Correction: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the strike rate of black jurors by the Mississippi prosecutor cited in the lawsuit.

CNN’s Tina Burnside, Ariane de Vogue, Veronica Stracqualursi and Emanuella Grinberg contributed to this report.