Fear stalks a Mississippi Town: Flowers Trial, Day One

(This post is part of a series concerning Curtis Flowers, an innocent man convicted of a horrific crime that has divided a small Mississippi town.  Information on the Flowers case can be found here.)

At the end of the fifth Curtis Flowers trial, Judge Joey Loper pitched a hissy fit.  A black juror named James Bibbs sparked Loper’s outrage by holding out for acquittal.

Judge Loper told DA Doug Evans to charge Bibbs with perjury.  Then he ordered Evans to cobble together a new law that would enable the prosecution to expand the jury pool beyond the borders of Montgromery County.

Evans complied on both counts.

The Mississippi Attorney Generals Office frustrated plan one by dropping the perjury charges against James Bibbs.

Then the black chair of the House Judiciary Committee frustrated plan two by refusing to let “The Flowers bill” make it to the house floor.

But there was method in the Judge’s madness.  He wanted black jurors to learn from James Bibbs’ example.  Message: if you hang a jury in my courtroom you might find yourself on trial.

You could feel the fear in the courthouse in the Montgomery County courthouse today.

The jury pool had already been cut from 600 to 156 when we arrived for day one of Curtis Flowers’ trial; by the end of the day only 76 jurors remained.

There were four categories of people in the room: category one people were the folks decent enough to admit that they had formed an opinion about the case too strong to be shaken by the evidence produced at trial; category two people in were desperate to be on the jury; category three folks weren’t fussy about jury duty but were willing to serve if their number came up; finally, category four people were desperate to get off the jury.

The eighty people eliminated from consideration today were a mixture of category one and category four people.  It was refreshing to hear jurors freely admit that they couldn’t be objective.  Black jurors and white jurors generally disagreed about the guilt-innocence issue, but they knew they weren’t going to change their minds.

Then there were the category four people–the ones scarecd to death of ending up on the jury.   One woman said that if her elderly pastor testified she might give too much weight to his testimony.  Fortunately, that didn’t qualify as a strike for cause–but she’ll think of another reason she can’t be on the jury, rest assured.

Category two people had no such qualms–they were willing to say whatever it took to stay in contention for a coveted jury slot.  One man admitted that he was really, really close to three of the innocent victims murdered at the Tardy Furniture Store in 1996, but swore he could still be trusted to weigh the evidence fairly and objectively.

Judge Loper, as the law demands, took these people at their word.

Some white jurors want to escape jury duty because they are terrified by the prospect of sentencing a human being to death.  Many black jurors imagine themselves staring into the faces of nine, ten, or eleven white folks who think Curtis Flowers done the deed.  It’s a no-win proposition.  Stand your ground and you are a perennial social outcast; cave in and you’ve got to live with your conscience.

If Curtis Flowers was white, no DA in the state of Mississippi would try to convict him.  You can’t pin a case this weak on a white man.

If Curtis Flowers went to trial in Jackson, he would likely be acquitted by a true jury of his peers.

But Curtis is a black man going to trial in Montgomery County.  Most black residents think he’s innocent, but it might not matter.

If white jurors do what they are inclined to do (convict), they consolidate their standing in the community.  If black jurors do what they are inclined to do (acquit) they become outcasts along the lines of James Bibbs.

That’s why the small number of black jurors who survive the rigors of voir dire will be tempted to cast their lot with the white majority.

Day one of the Curtis Flowers trial had its high points.  At least ten observers were in the courtroom; some responding to an invitation from Friends of Justice, others attending on their own initiative.  I met some splendid people and ate some great Southern cooking.

But my eyes kept wandering to the man on trial.  Newcomers kept mistaking Curtis for a lawyer–he certainly looked the part.  But he’s got to be frightened.  After asserting his innocence for fourteen years and enduring five jury trials the fatigue must be crushing.

At the end of the day, Curtis is the only person in the room who can justify his fear.

18 thoughts on “Fear stalks a Mississippi Town: Flowers Trial, Day One

  1. Christ was a Jew, would those white jurors convict a Jew to keep their standing in the community? Probably. It sounds like mob behavior. If one white juror goes ahead and says he believes Flowers is not guilty, some of the other white juros will follow. All Flowers needs is one white juror, and some of the rest will follow.


    He wanted black jurors to learn from James Bibbs’ example. Message: if you hang a jury in my courtroom you might find yourself on trial, THIS IS THE SIXTY ALL OVER AGAIN.

  3. Dr. Bean,
    Thank you so much for you unending presence in the midst of injustice. I pray Flowers will be set free from all the shackles he has been burden with. This case is simply a vengeance upon a man who inherited a guilty verdict based on flesh and not facts. God is good! No weapons formed against him shall prosper. Flowers has been tried six times not only to prove his innocent, but to expose the ignorance that seeks to slowly distinct the image of ethnicity by all means necessary. Often due process is defined by the oppressor as an opportunity to engage in the out of sight, out of mind, profit at the same time prison theory. The new plantation is prison and the scale of justice is often used as a whip to oppress those which have the rightful passage to freedom and justice.

  4. I can do so little…but will pray for God’s intervention. And, will pray for and write to Curtis

  5. Yes I do think they would convict Jesus because they have in the pass. We, Winona, have some of the prejudices people around. It’s a shame that some of the people are still living in the 50’s and the 60’s. My family now is in a situation where we got children of the opposites race dating but they are hiding their relationship from one of the race. I tried to explain to the teenagers that this is not in the late days and somebody need to break the cycle. I’m always for breaking cycles. My honest opinion about the trial is; he’s innocent and he’s being quiet for some reason. Maybe he’s acting like Jesus. He’s gone to suffer the consequences for his people. It;s kinda of scary when you get to thinking about how people got power in this little town of Winona. Especially when people start talking about dealing with the mob. You don’t find that here in Winona, you think, this is not NY or Chi-town. You only think of things like this by watching T.V. Winona has had some serious things to go on lately in these last few years that we would only think that we would see on T.V. Decapitation, Gunned down, Sex offenders, etc. We all need to pray but God said all this would happen. Lord have mercy on all our souls and especially Curtis Flowers!!

  6. If it were a white man being accused of these crimes, he would either be on death row at this point or already executed.

  7. There is one factor you left out that is definitely here in MS. …… Black Peer pressure. Blacks are afraid to serve on juries or vote to convict a black because they will be called an Uncle Tom and be rejected and called names by other blacks in the community. That is why Curtis Flowers would no be or any black is hardly convicted in Jackson, MS. They are also afraid they will be killed by the black drug lords in Jackson. This is real. I have lived in MS all my life, work and talk with many blacks. I have many black friends. You are an outsider who does not want to admit to this in writing if you know it. It destroys your belief that blacks are great jurors. They have their faults like white jurors.

  8. Henry Washington, Judge Loper wanted jurors to quit lying under oath (purjury). This is a criminal offense. Judge Loper did not tell jurors how to vote. He just told the District Attorney after the trial (not in the presence of the jury) he wanted two known jurors who lied prosecuted for purjury. One was convicted. James Bibbs whom I know was acquited by the MS Supreme Count. Coach Bibbs would have lost his state retirement the rest of his life if convicted. The Democratic MS Attorney General (who must have black votes to stay in office) hated to do this to a man who WAS a good role model for Montgomery County blacks.

  9. silk Littlejohn, I have sat during three Flowers trials. The DA has the best case of circumstantial evidence I have ever seen for a guilty verdict. You can read part of the evidence on this Friends of Justice website but not all. I thought the best circumstantial evidence in the June 12 day of trial was the black neighbor of Curtis Flowers who was late for work and saw Curtis Flowers (later picked him in picture lineup) standing by the car from which a gun was stolen. Later that morning she learned of the Tardy Furniture murders. What would you think if this happened in a small town near you and you were the lady? At that time she did not even know the .380 caliber handgun that killed four people at Tardy Furniture was the same caliber handgun stolen like the one stolen from Curtis Flowers uncle’s car. How many reports are there in a year of stolen guns in a small town like Winona, MS? Very, very few!! AND THIS GUN WAS STOLEN THE SAME DAY AS THE MURDERS!!! Great circumstantial evidence!! And this is just one piece of circumstantial evidence. No one saw a man pull the trigger on the four people, but this one piece of evidence says in all probability Curtis Flowers pulled the trigger to shoot the four people.

  10. I agree. If this had been a white man, he wouldn’t have gotten a second chance. It’s a black man and he keeps getting more and more chances. There should be only one trial for everyone, no second trial!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No appeals!!!!!!!!! Guilty or not guilty!!!

  11. Yes you are right Mr or Ms Jones. It is not like the out-of-state people write on this site. I just hate DA Doug Evans chose the wrong route of first two trials to prosecute separately. There was not enough convincing evidence without bringing all four murders together. The four murders happened the same day at the same place and ballistic evidence says it was the same gun. Even though this is the 6th court case heard against Flowers, this is really just the 4th trial for four murders/same day.

  12. Exactly!!! Curtis Flowers gets fired from his job at Tardy Furniture by the owner ( Bertha Tardy). Curtis Flowers is getting his anger worked up everyday, so he goes to get revenge but something goes very wrong. Curtis Flowers decides to kill Bertha Tardy and the rest of the employees. His mind just clicked with all of the anger for getting fired. These people did not deserve to die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Shirley:
    So you are saying we should do away with the Mississippi Supreme Court?

    Alan Bean

  14. There you go, leaving out important facts. Bibbs lied, plain and simple. Therefore he committed perjury. He was trying to persuade the other jurors to acquit by telling them that he saw this and that and that police didn’t do their jobs, etc. What about the girl that lied about knowing Flowers and was actually visiting him in jail. Should she have been on the jury when she lied and said that she didn’t know him? No. She was arrested for perjury, just as Bibbs should’ve been convicted of it.

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