Lili Ibara reports from Mississippi

(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.)
Lili Ibara has been working with Friends of Justice since January 16, 2000, the day we met her in Plainview, Texas.  Lili got the ball rolling in Tulia by alerting the Texas Observer to the grave injustice unfolding in our community.  This week she flew down to Winona to join the Friends of Justice contingent at the Curtis Flowers trial.  Tomorrow, Lili flies back to her husband, Jeremy, and her 10-month-old baby, Iris.  Here’s her account of her first three days in Winona.
Lili Ibara in front of the Montgomery County Courthouse
Lili Ibara outside the Montgomery County Courthouse during the sixth trial

Things aren’t looking so good in Mississippi. Here’s a quick update.

It’s been really draining to be in the courtroom, to realize people are talking about killing a man who is sitting right there at the defense table; to know his parents are sitting next to me watching as people say they would consider killing their son. It would be hard enough if I thought Curtis had killed four people. I really believe he is innocent though, and I know he’s already spent 14 years in jail (where, by the way, he’s been a model prisoner–no disciplinary write-ups, a lot of respect from the guards, and a leader of church services).

The whole thing is making me physically sick. I keep waking up in the middle of the night thinking about what it would be like if a courtroom full of people were talking about killing my baby.

It’s also incredibly sad to know the victims’ families are right there too. They really believe we’re here to free the person who killed their family members. The husband of one victim angrily confronted Friends of Justice director Alan Bean in the courtroom yesterday, calling him a “sapsuck’n liar” and told him he “wasn’t going to get away with this.” Alan was angry but could sympathize with him too. These people really believe they are right.

Unfortunately they also have a lot of supporters who seem to be wheedling their way onto the jury.

There are so many details that show Curtis isn’t getting a fair trial, that potential black jury members are afraid to be on the jury (one already formally asked to be excused because he was afraid of being arrested if he misspoke, as happened to this black juror from Curtis’s last trial who held out for an acquittal) and that the judge is favoring the prosecution (he’s allowing close friends of the victims to be on the jury, including one who admitted to attending two of the previous trials).

Wait, I need to repeat that bit, the judge thought there was no cause to dismiss a juror who had actually WATCHED two of the previous trials.

There’s also the inherent craziness of our criminal system, where the only people who can be on the jury are people who say they would consider imposing the death penalty. In this case the jurors are interviewed individually for this part, so potential jurors have to be willing to look right at Curtis and his family and say that yes, they could consider killing him. Most of the black jurors interviewed yesterday couldn’t do it, while most of the white ones, including close family friends of the victims, said yes, and also noted they could be absolutely fair and impartial to Curtis.

It’s my understanding that Curtis decided not to change venues because local people might know him and because he could not control where in Mississippi the trial was moved (the judge, the one who tried him last time, would get to decide that).

Yesterday the defense tried to present evidence that black jury members were afraid to be on the jury. In describing a climate of racial intimidation, the defense attorney pointed out that her African-American intern was stopped while driving into town. The intern was told to keep her hands on the wheel and her eyes on the road. She was asked what she was doing in town and told not to make any trouble. There was no answer when she asked what law she had broken. The judge was visibly outraged by this story, saying it was preposterous and the intern was probably speeding or otherwise breaking the law. The intern told me it took everything she had to keep quiet while the judge called her a liar.

There are also a lot of ridiculous details about the case itself that make me crazy. For example, the state’s big piece of physical evidence is the gunpowder residue found on Curtis’s hand hours after the shooting. It makes you at least seriously question Curtis’s innocence, right? But Alan Bean explained the police had found only a single micron of residue on his hand, and that the FBI doesn’t use this kind of evidence any more because small amounts of residue can easily be picked up by doing things like say, touching handcuff or furniture at a police station or, even during the testing process itself.

The eyewitness testimony would also seem to reasonably place Curtis at the crime scene, or at least not preclude the possibility, until you learn there were no willing witnesses until the state posted a $30,000 reward and went knocking on doors to ask people to testify. Once you know that, you understand why the physical descriptions by eyewitnesses are contradictory. One said he was wearing long pants and a jacket. A JACKET . . . IN MISSISSIPPI . . . IN JULY. Another said it was shorts and a t-shirt).

I don’t know if the prosecutor and judge really believe Curtis is guilty, or if they both just want to satisfy the victims’ families that the murderer has been found.

I do believe what we’re doing here is helpful though. When I worked on a Friends of Justice case in Tulia, Texas ten years ago I really sort of thought all the time we spent getting media attention and the time Alan later spent reviving media interest was pretty futile, but then miraculously the media attention turned into pressure on the legal system which turned into, um, justice. It’s also what Alan did with Jena – took a story local people told him and made it into a national story and now the kids arrested in Jena are in college, not prison. So, I’m trying to be hopeful.

Thanks for everyone for the donations to Friends of Justice and the babysitting help and covering my cases at work. It means so much for me that I get to be here and try to help.

13 thoughts on “Lili Ibara reports from Mississippi

  1. This is seriously the most pathetic website I’ve ever seen. The story about the young african american woman being pulled over and treated like that by law enforcement in winona is nothing but a made up LIE!! I’ve lived around Winona my whole life and law enforcement around here is nothing but nice. Its pretty sad that a lie like this was made up and brought into the courtroom. The people of this website should get a life and report the TRUTH if they’re going to report anything at all. For the record, I AM BLACK!!!!!

  2. If the defense is so convinced that picking a fair and impartial jury is so difficult in Montgomery County because black jurors are afraid of being placed on the jury, why not ask for a change of venue? Seems like a pretty common sense move to me.

  3. Drained64:

    Lajuanda Williams is still in town and would be very happy to discuss this incident with you personally. Law enforcement is undoubtedly nice to you, but that was true back in the day when Fannie Lou Hamer was beaten half to death. The men who beat her were nice guys trying to protect the honor of their town and the Southern way of life. Or do you think Fannie Lou invented a lie as well?

    Alan Bean

  4. I was at trial Tuesday for continuing the selecting of the jurors. You couldn’t ask for a better judge. Judge Loper is doing his job, going exactly by what the law says to do and what he is suppose to do. So you young interns need to learn from Judge Loper or you won’t get very far with your life. Your telling all of these lies about the District Attorney, Winona Law Enforcement and Judge Loper, well honey, you have to answer to only one person…. and guess who that person is ….. Jesus!!!! You should get to know him and then you will see things a lot different.

    The only people who are making this a racist thing is the blacks. It has always been that way. We had nothing to do with the past. We weren’t even born then, were you???? You are white, does that make you a racist?? Just because we are white, doesn’t mean we are racists. If you are a christian, it doesn’t matter what color you skin is.

  5. Just wondered since the whole jury selection process / racial make-up is the ultimate problem in these trials, has anyone checked to see the percentage of African Americans registered to vote in this county. I keep hearing about the overall makeup of the county being half/ half but the jury pool is pulled from registered voters only. Just curious to know if you had statistics on this?

  6. Melissa:
    There are some legitimate questions about how the venire was selected, but the racial composition was pretty much what it should have been. Thanks for asking.


  7. Why is Mr.Flowers on trial for the sixth time? I thought that once you were tried and not found to be guilty that you couldn’t be tried again.
    Something is terribly wrong when a man is imprisoned and tried 6 times for the same crime and not being found guilty in the first 5 times.
    If there isn’t enough evidence to convict him in the first 5 trials then it should be pretty evident that the man did not do it.

  8. Double jeopardy only applies in the case of an acquittal. If the case is overturned on appeal or there is a hung jury, the state can keep trying it as many times as they wish.

  9. The defense had the option to decide whether the trial was held in Montgomery County or elsewhere. The prosecution asked them to move it to a neutral location. They went so far as to try to get the state legislature to pass a law so that it could be moved. Think about that for a moment. Why would Flowers insist upon being tried here if it is such a hotbed of racism? Could it be because he is playing the system? If he can manage to sneak someone on the jury with the sole purpose of “hanging” it, as he tried to in the last trial, he prolongs this and gets misinformed people like yourself questioning the validity of the evidence. This attempt is documented. The female juror in question was sentenced to jail for perjury. Look it up. She even visited him in jail before the trial.
    If convicted in Montgomery County, Flowers can cry “racism.”
    There were 3 black jurors on the last jury. Two of them were convinced he was guilty. It is so patronizing of Alan Bean to insist that these jurors were afraid of white people or were intimidated. They are intelligent people, capable of listening to the evidence and thinking for themselves.
    Mr. Bibbs, the lone hold-out juror, should never have been allowed to serve on the jury. He went into the trial with the opinion that Flowers was innocent and would not consider the evidence. He introduced information in deliberations that was never mentioned in the trial and was just plain false. He was NOT arrested simply for voting Not Guilty. He lied to the judge. The other 11 jurors confirmed this before he was arrested. He should have been prosecuted.
    Don’t you understand that no one in this community is trying to condemn an innocent man? WHY would we want to allow a quadruple murderer to go free while persecuting Curtis? The evidence, although mainly circumstantial, is compelling proof beyond a REASONABLE doubt that Flowers is GUILTY.

  10. All of it is circumstantial…you are right! Why is it that white is always right? White people are not always right. We need to get this in our heads. There is a lot of jury intimidation in this case and Loper tried to throw out his little intimidations this trial. There was a white lady who was a jury alternate who sat up in the jury box the last trial and when they didn’t have to use her she went right out there and sat in the audience with one of the victims family. But for some special reason she was not charged with perjury….why is that? Loper and the DA were quick to look over that!

  11. What in the world does “white” have to do with anything in my post? Facts are facts. Take color out of the equation and look at the cold, hard facts.
    After hearing all the evidence against Flowers, it is understandable that the juror you mentioned would choose to sit with the victims’ families. There were two choices- his supporters side or the victims’ side. I guess we all know how she would have voted. The key thing here is this occurred AFTER the case had been presented.

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