By WILLIAM BROWNING
WINONA, Miss. (AP) - A Mississippi law is slowing the wheels of
justice in a 12-year-old quadruple murder case, according to a
"When the rights lean the defendant's way, there is something
wrong," said Roxanne Ballard, whose mother, Bertha Tardy, was one
of four people shot to death in downtown Winona in 1996.
"I'm not asking for it to lean my way. I just want it to lean
in the middle."
Curtis Giovanni Flowers has been convicted and sentenced to
death three times for the murder of Ballard's mother - and three
others - inside Tardy Furniture. Those convictions were later
reversed on appeal. A fourth trial, held in 2007, and a fifth,
which ended in Sept. 30, both ended in hung juries.
After two jurors in the fifth trial, James Franklin Bibbs and
Mary Annette Purnell, were arrested, jailed and ultimately indicted
on charges of perjury, some are wondering if prosecutors are
getting a fair stab at justice in Montgomery County.
Under state law, defendants may request a change of venue if
they feel a fair jury can't be seated in the county of
jurisdiction. Prosecutors, however, aren't afforded the same right.
"What I would like to see, is the law be fair," Ballard said.
"It needs to be fair for everyone."
At the conclusion of the fifth trial, Circuit Judge Joseph H.
Loper Jr. urged District Attorney Doug Evans to get with the
Mississippi Prosecutors Association and lobby for a change in state
law so that prosecutors could request that a trial be moved.
The MPA has not lobbied for this in 10 years.
Evans could not be reached for comment, but in the past he has
expressed frustration with the situation.
"How can you tell people to depend on the justice system when
in this case the justice system isn't working?" Evans has said of
the Flowers case.
At least one state lawmaker agrees and, at the urging of
victims' family members, is working to have a bill ready to
introduce to the legislature by January.
"Obviously, after five trials, it ain't working," said state
Sen. Lydia Chassaniol, R-Winona. "And it's obviously a situation
worth looking into."
With a sixth trial on the way, the combined price of the first
five equaled about $300,000.
"That's a lot of money for a poor county like Montgomery
County," Chassaniol said. "So yes, I'm exploring the possibility
of enacting some legislation that would keep this mess from
Andre de Gruy, one of Flowers' defense attorneys and director of
the state Office of Capital Defense Counsel, said the law is based
on rights afforded to defendants by the Mississippi Constitution.
"The constitution protects us from the government," De Gruy
said. "That's why we have a constitution in this country. And it
says that if a person is accused of a crime in a county, the folks
from that county are the ones who get to decide (guilt or
While acknowledging the last trial's troubles, De Gruy said the
current talk about a need to change state law is simply a knee-jerk
"We are all frustrated with what happened," he said. "But we
have to trust the system that is in place when we hit these bumps
in the road. This isn't something the Legislature needs to be
talking about at all. There are a whole lot of other ways to deal
De Gruy suggested more thorough investigations of potential
jurors during the early stages of the selection process. He also
said potential jurors could be interviewed one-on-one.
District Attorney James Powell said that when it comes to
requesting a change of venue, a courtroom's playing field isn't
"It's a problem, absolutely, and it's something that needs to
be looked at," he said. "Changing that law would ensure that
cases are tried on facts and law and not whether or not somebody
knows the defendant."
Powell said he has run into the problem while prosecuting
"You usually end up pleading those out for less than they're
worth because you know that from the start you'll be working with a
pool of jurors that put the guy in office because they like him."
Powell's district includes Humphreys, Holmes and Yazoo counties.
District Attorney DeWayne Richardson agrees with De Gruy on the
"Have I ever wanted to move a trial out of county? Of course,"
said Richardson, whose district includes Leflore, Washington and
"But that's a defendant's right; that's one of many rights a
defendant has. Judges can't change it, and prosecutors can't change
it. You just have to respect the law and work with what you got."
Ballard fears justice for the Tardy Furniture murders will be
found only with a change of law.
"I don't see how it could be fair in Montgomery County."
She said the law as it stands has only added to the 12 years
worth of trials, hearings and appeals that her family has had to
endure in their quest for justice.
Flowers has stood trial for the slayings in 1997, 1999, 2005,
2007 and 2008.
"That doesn't leave a lot of time to get back to normal,"
Ballard said. "Having to go through this over and over again is
terrible. And you never really get over it. You'll always miss your
mother, or your wife, or your husband, or your son. But the thing
is, we can't get past it.
"Anyone could find themselves in this situation, and it's very
important that the law be neutral. Let the judge or a neutral party
be the one to decide where a trial should happen."
Information from: Greenwood Commonwealth,