WINONA, Miss. (WLBT) - Curtis Flowers, the Winona man jailed since 1997 for a quadruple murder at a furniture store, walked out of the Winston Choctaw County Regional Correctional Facility on Monday after a judge granted him bond.
Flowers has been tried six times for killing four people at Tardy Furniture on July 16, 1996: Robert Golden, Carmen Rigby, Bobo Stewart and Bertha Tardy. Flowers was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty in four of the trials, but higher courts overturned the verdicts. Two of the trials ended in hung juries.
At a bail hearing Monday at the Montgomery County Courthouse, Flowers’ attorney Robert McDuff argued for bail, pointing to new evidence uncovered by the “In the Dark” podcast series. He also cited a state law that says a capital-murder suspect is eligible for bond after two mistrials.
Speaking for the prosecution, Assistant District Attorney Adam Hopper argued that even if some trial witnesses’ statements to the podcast contradict what they said in court, there are other witnesses whose testimony supports the state’s case.
Hopper also said other potential suspects identified in the podcast had no motive to commit the murders.
In a lengthy bench ruling, Judge Joseph Loper gave a history of the case, including the six trials and the outcome of each. He agreed with McDuff’s argument that Flowers is entitled to bail.
The judge also raised concerns about what key witnesses have said to “In the Dark” since the last trial, other possible suspects described in the podcast, and possible evidence that was not considered in the previous trials.
“In the next trial, should one occur," the judge said, “the State of Mississippi is faced with the prospect of having to present a far weaker case to the jury than it has in the past, while having to meet a higher burden of proof than it has ever had to meet. Considering all these factors, this court is of the opinion that in the least, reasonable doubt as to Mr. Flowers’ guilt can be entertained."
Judge Loper set bond at $250,000. His order requires Flowers to be electronically monitored, and Flowers may not leave his home except for medical treatment, court proceedings, or meetings with his attorney.
Flowers’ father, Archie, was sitting behind his son in court. When asked the first thing he planned to do with his son, he responded, “I’m going to pray and keep going. We are going to keep singing.”
Curtis Flowers’ mother died while he was on death row at Parchman.
Many of the victims’ family members were in the courtroom as well, including Willie Golden, whose brother Robert was among those killed.
“From the get-go, I’ve turned this thing over to the hands of the Lord to let him make the decisions on which way it’s going,” he said. "I just try to remain neutral from the beginning to the end.”
McDuff acknowledged the pain still felt by the victims’ families, but he said, “the existence of this tragedy and the existence of the family members’ pain does not mean that Curtis Flowers caused it."
Both McDuff and the judge had harsh words for District Attorney Doug Evans, the prosecutor in all six trials, who sent an assistant D.A. to the hearing. Judge Loper said Evans’ office had failed to submit a written response to the defense motion for bail, a motion to dismiss the indictments, and a motion to disqualify Evans from further participation in the case.
“I want to caution the prosecution that if it continues its dilatory conduct, and/or if it continues to ignore orders issued by this court, the State of Mississippi will reap the whirlwind,” the judge said before turning his attention directly to the assistant D.A.
“Mr. Hopper, since your boss chose to be somewhere other than here today, I expect you to convey that to him,” the judge said.
“It’s Doug Evans’ choice not to come to this hearing," McDuff said to reporters afterward. "The fact that he didn’t come to try to defend what has happened shows that it’s not defensible.”
McDuff says an anonymous donor put up the bond money to secure Flowers’ release. He plans to request that all the charges against Flowers be dropped.
“This has been a long and costly process, and there is no need to continue wasting taxpayer money on this misguided prosecution that has been plagued by misconduct and racial discrimination,” McDuff later said in a written statement.
The district attorney has not formally said if he will try Flowers for a seventh time or if he will ask the state Attorney General’s Office to take over the case.