After six trials and nearly 23 years, the state’s case against Curtis Giovanni Flowers for capital murder in the shooting deaths of four people at a Winona furniture store is over. Friday afternoon, Circuit Judge Joseph Loper, Jr., signed a petition submitted by Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch to dismiss the indictment against Flowers with prejudice, meaning Flowers cannot be prosecuted again for the murders.
Flowers was most recently convicted in 2010 for the murders of Bertha Tardy, 59, Carmen Rigby, 45, Robert Golden, 42, and Derrick “Bobo” Stewart, 16, at Tardy Furniture in Winona on July 16, 1996. The conviction was overturned in June 2019 by the U.S. Supreme Court, sending it back to the lower court.
The 2010 trial was Flowers’ sixth trial for the murders, with the first three convictions overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court and trials four and five ending in mistrials when the jury could not come to a unanimous verdict on guilt or innocence.
In December 2019, after hearing arguments in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Loper granted bail of $250,000 for Flowers, who spent nearly 23 years behind bars. Bond was posted by an anonymous donor, and Flowers walked out of the Winston County Jail on December 16, 2019.
According to the motion to dismiss, after an independent review of the evidence, “there is no key prosecution witness that incriminates Mr. Flowers who is alive and available and has not had multiple, conflicting statements in the record. Additionally, this Court took judicial notice that another witness who testified against Mr. Flowers in the past, was later convicted of multiple counts of federal income tax fraud; she is now deceased. Several other material witnesses are also dead and unavailable to testify about the events that occurred twenty-four years ago.”
The motion noted that the “only witness who offered direct evidence of guilt,” Odell Hollman, recanted his testimony in interviews with reporters from American Public Media. Hollman told the reporters he lied about Flowers confessing to him while the two were inmates in the same facility.
In addition, the motion stated that “the court was made aware of alternative suspects with violent criminal histories, as well as possible exculpatory evidence not previously considered.”
A spokesman for the Mississippi Attorney General’s office stated, “As a general rule, General Fitch intends to refrain from seeking media coverage on individual prosecutions in an effort to de-sensationalize this very serious process for the individuals involved. The families here deserve that respect.”
Rob McDuff, director of Mississippi Center for Justice’s George Riley Impact Litigation Project, and Henderson Hill, an attorney from Charlotte, N.C., joined the Flowers defense team after the 2010 conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court and sent back to Montgomery County Circuit Court for a new trial. McDuff and Hill represented Flowers at December’s bail hearing.
In a statement issued by McDuff, Flowers stated, “Today, I am finally free from the injustice that left me locked in a box for twenty three years. I want to say that I believe there are other men, men that I met on the row, whose cases deserve to be heard and considered. 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. With their love, staying in the word of God, with the determination of my legal team, and the countless letters and words from my supporters, the day I’ve prayed for is here at last.”
Through McDuff, the Flowers family issued the following statement:
“We are so happy and blessed that the weight of this case has finally been lifted from Curtis’ shoulders. We have prayed for this day and are looking forward to the future knowing that our brother will not be going back to prison. We know our Mom is looking down and our only wish is that she could have been here to welcome Curtis home. We ask for everyone to respect our wish for privacy and time to reconnect and look forward to talking more soon. Thank you all for your love, prayer and support.”
Vangela M. Wade, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice stated in a release, “This is a monumental victory. Over the past year, the Mississippi Center for Justice represented Curtis Flowers and helped to bring about a favorable conclusion of this tragic case. Today the burden of further injustice has been lifted from Mr. Flowers, but fair treatment in our criminal justice system should never require the extraordinary resources behind this long-delayed outcome.”
The families of Bertha Tardy, Carmen Rigby, Robert Golden, and Derrick “Bobo” Stewart have expressed outrage at Fitch’s lack of effort to further investigate the case before electing to dismiss the indictment against Flowers. Family members have also spoken out against Fitch for releasing the information to certain media outlets before the families were told the case had been dismissed.
Brian Rigby, son of Carmen Rigby, stated on Facebook Saturday, “In the only meeting we have ever been granted with her (it took 3 months of begging), she stated she would do ‘everything in her power’ to get justice for 4 innocent people, including my mom and best friend, that were brutally murdered July 16, 1996. We were told her office would be in touch with updates on the progress in which never happened. Just this week we were asked if we could meet on Friday for a ‘status update.’ Mrs. Fitch didn’t bother to attend that meeting but sent staff members instead. They proceeded to tell us that the AG had decided not to pursue a further trial where there had been 4 previous convictions only to be overturned by technicalities. When questioned further about the decision, the lack of answers and refusal to answer some questions was simply mind boggling. It was apparent there hadn’t been a lot of effort put forth on this case. It was referred to as a ‘difficult’ case. They made it clear that they get their ‘marching orders’ from the AG, whom keep in mind, didn’t have the courage to attend the meeting. As we begged and pleaded to reconsider, I think back now, we must have looked like fools because we learned later the AG had already made the defense team aware of her decision the day prior. I guess we were just an afterthought. One family members’ only request was that this not be released to the media until they were able to notify their son serving our country in the Middle East. Lynn Fitch couldn’t even do that because she had already made a promise to somebody else. We were misled from the start. The very people she is supposed to protect, she betrayed. She says one thing, then does another. It makes me sick to my stomach. I promise I will be sharing further details as to the reasons why SHE chose to dismiss this case to anyone and everyone who will listen.”
One family member stated that after meeting with the attorney general’s staff at 1 p.m. for approximately two hours, they were met within minutes with text messages from friends and family reporting that news outlets were already reporting the story, despite their request to hold the announcement until after the Labor Day weekend.
The families said they would comment further next week.
A spokesman for Fitch’s office stated, “The families were the first to be told. We had not taken any action on our end, and I confirmed that with our chief of staff.”
District Attorney Doug Evans, who voluntarily recused himself from the case on January 7, said he received a call from the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office informing him of their decision to request the dismissal of the charges.
“They told me they were not going to retry it,” Evans said. “It is out of my hands at this point. We got [the attorney general’s office] everything we had and they had to decide where to go with it.”
Evans led the prosecution for all six trials. In an interview with The Winona Times in January, Evans said his decision to recuse himself was his way of taking the focus off of him and placing it back on the four victims in the case.
“They were trying to make everything about me,” Evans said. “Nothing in the case has ever been about me. It was about the victims.”