Curtis Flowers filed a federal lawsuit last Friday against District Attorney Doug Evans, who prosecuted him six times in the murders of four people at a Winona furniture store in 1996. Flowers spent nearly 23 years in prison for the murders before the Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch dismissed the charges in September 2020.
The lawsuit filed Friday also names three investigators who worked with Evans on the case, John Johnson, Wayne Miller, and Jack Matthews, as defendants.
Flowers was tried six times for the murders of Bertha Tardy, 59, 45-year-old Carmen Rigby, 42-year-old Robert Golden, and 16-year-old Derrick "Bobo" Stewart at Tardy Furniture in July 1996.
Flowers was convicted in the first three trials, but those convictions were overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
The first trial was overturned because, according to the written opinion, Evans “improperly employed a tactic or trial strategy of trying Flowers for all four murders during this trial for the murder of [Bertha] Tardy alone, which we cannot say did not inflame and prejudice the jury.” Trials two and three were overturned due to the prosecution’s failure to give “race-neutral” reasons for striking jurors, also known as a Batson violation. Flowers is black.
Trials four and five ended in hung juries, while trial six in 2010 ended with a conviction.
In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the 2010 conviction and death sentence, due to the history of racial discrimination in jury selection, the court found “the state’s use of peremptory strikes in Flowers’ sixth trial followed the same pattern as the first four trials.”
In December 2019, Flowers was released on bail to await a seventh trial. Evans recused himself from pursuing a seventh trial a month, and in September 2020, Judge Joseph Loper, Jr., dismissed the capital murder charges with prejudice, following a motion by the attorney general’s office.
The suit claims that Evans and the investigators “engaged in misconduct” by "pressuring witnesses to fabricate claims about seeing Mr. Flowers in particular locations on the day of the murders, using an unduly suggestive photo line-up to persuade one witness to incriminate Mr. Flowers, failing to thoroughly investigate other suspects who were much more likely to have committed these murders than Curtis Flowers (and concealing the investigation that was done), failing to send a firearm that may have been the murder weapon to the Mississippi crime lab for further investigation, and persuading a career criminal to claim falsely that Mr. Flowers confessed in prison.”
Prosecution witness Odell Hallmon recanted his testimony to reporters from America Public Media that Flowers had confessed to him while in custody of the Leflore County Jail.
Flowers’ attorney Rob McDuff, with the Mississippi Center for Justice, said in a press release, "The murders were clearly the work of professional criminals. Curtis Flowers was 26 years old with no criminal record and nothing in his history to suggest he would commit a crime like this. The prosecution was tainted throughout by racial discrimination and repeated misconduct. This lawsuit seeks accountability for that misconduct.”
The lawsuit does not specify a particular financial judgement sought in the case.
In March 2021, Montgomery County Circuit Court awarded the Flowers $50,000 per year for each year of incarceration, excluding any pre-indictment detention, for a total not to exceed $500,000. The compensation will be paid in installments of $50,000 “until the award is fully paid.”