What it took for Curtis Flowers, a Black man who spent some 23 years behind bars, to have charges dropped against him: six trials plagued by prosecutor misconduct, multiple overturned convictions, and a dogged investigation by a podcast into a quadruple murder at a Mississippi furniture store.
Now, more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Flowers’ latest conviction, prosecutors have decided to stop pursuing the case.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Loper approved the state attorney general’s motion to dismiss on Friday. In their filing, prosecutors wrote that there were no credible witnesses for an unprecedented seventh trial, effectively putting to bed a decades-long pursuit of Flowers for the 1996 slayings in the small city of Winona, Miss.
“As the evidence stands today, 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,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Mary Helen Wall in a court filing.
Flowers, who is now 50, commemorated the dismissal Friday in a statement issued through his attorneys.
“Today, I am finally free from the injustice that left me locked in a box for nearly twenty three years,” the statement read as reported by multiple outlets. “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 had been accused of the July 1996 shooting deaths of Tardy Furniture owner Bertha Tardy as well as employees Carmen Rigby, Robert Golden and Derrick Stewart. Flowers, who had briefly worked at the store, had no prior criminal record and has maintained his innocence. Local prosecutor Doug Evans pursued Flowers as the prime suspect, taking him to trial six times. Four of those trials ended in conviction. Two of them ended in mistrials.
After each conviction, a higher court struck down the initial ruling. The latest ruling invalidating Flowers’ conviction, and death sentence, came from the U.S. Supreme Court in June of last year. The justices noted the Mississippi Supreme Court had found that in three prior convictions the prosecution had misrepresented evidence and deliberately eliminated Black jurors.
For Flowers’ first trial, an all-white jury moved to convict. His second, third, and sixth trials all had only one Black juror and also ended in convictions. But for his two trials with multiple Black jurors, the jury deadlocked. The city where Flowers was tried has more Black than white residents.
Flowers was granted bail in December of last year. Shortly after that the state’s attorney general took over the case from Evans.
Flowers gained national attention as investigative journalists with the podcast In The Dark looked into the case. In the Dark‘s managing producer Samara Freemark told NPR that with Flowers never having been acquitted, Evans was able to take the case to trial multiple times.
Evans’ persistence continued despite higher courts finding discriminatory jury selection and misconduct by prosecutors. Freemark says the show’s investigation, which included speaking to hundreds of people and tracking down thousands of documents, found other problems in the pursuit of a conviction.
“We talked to key witnesses who told us they had lied on the stand or that they had been pressured by law enforcement. We discovered an alternate suspect in the case who had never been disclosed to jurors. We found that the ballistics evidence in the case relied on junk science,” Freemark told NPR’s Weekend Edition.
Freemark also notes that the attorney general’s filing echoed their finding on the state’s star witness, a jailhouse informant who claimed that Curtis had confessed to him about the killing. Freemark said that witness “told us that he had just made that whole thing up.”