Curtis Flowers Becomes Death Row Exoneree Number 171
At long last, Curtis Flowers is free.
The Mississippi man endured nearly 23 years behind bars, six trials, four death sentences and, most recently, months of house arrest for murders he always maintained that he didn’t commit, and for which the evidence of his guilt was weak.
His legal odyssey ended Friday when the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, which had been reviewing the case since February, submitted a motion to dismiss the indictments against him for the 1996 murders of four people in Winona, Mississippi. Judge Joey Loper then signed an order granting the motion. The move brought the State of Mississippi v. Curtis Flowers to a decisive close.
“Today, I am finally free from the injustice that left me locked in a box for nearly 23 years,” Flowers said in a statement released by his attorneys. “I’ve been asked if I ever thought this day would come. … With a family that never gave up on me and with them by my side, I knew it would.”
Flowers’ case became the focus of national attention two years ago after an investigation by APM Reports’ podcast In the Dark found that his conviction was based on unreliable evidence.
"This prosecution was flawed from the beginning and was tainted throughout by racial discrimination. It should never have occurred and lasted far too long, but we are glad it is finally over," said Rob McDuff, a lawyer with the Mississippi Center for Justice, who took over Flowers' defense after the Supreme Court reversed Flowers' conviction.
District Attorney Doug Evans had tried Flowers an unprecedented six times for the murders at the Tardy Furniture store, which shattered the rural community of Winona. Evans couldn’t be reached for comment on Friday afternoon at his office or home.
Flowers’ first three trials resulted in death sentences that were overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court. His fourth and fifth trials ended in hung juries. Flowers’ sixth trial, in 2010, sent him back to death row at Parchman prison, where he might have remained had the U.S. Supreme Court not decided to take up his case.
In June 2019, the High Court reversed Flowers’ conviction and death sentence, sending his case back to Montgomery County for a possible seventh trial and touching off a string of legal victories.
In December, a judge granted his release on bail, setting Flowers, 50, free after he had spent nearly half his life behind bars. Then Evans, who had zealously pursued Flowers for a quarter century, recused himself from the case and handed it over to the Attorney General’s Office.
But all the while that Flowers was out on bail, the specter of a seventh trial loomed. Friday — with Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s decision to drop all charges — that threat, and the possibility of being sent back to death row, are finally gone. Against incredible odds, Flowers is a free man.
“People get exonerated from death row because of a combination of relentless persistence, good lawyering, strong evidence that they didn’t do it and just plain luck,” said Robert Dunham, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which estimates that roughly 4 percent of death row inmates in the United States are innocent.
“You can’t line up those elements. They happen or they don’t. You’re struck by providence,” he said.