Smoke or fog: Curtis Flowers Trial, Day Eight

(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.)

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”  The prosecution of Curtis Flowers rests on this bit of folk wisdom.  Curtis told investigators he never strayed onto the east side of Highway 51 on the morning in 1996 when four innocent people were murdered execution-style at the Tardy furniture store.  One witness seeing Curtis Flowers on the east side of the highway might be mistaken, but the state has half- a-dozen witnesses making this claim.

With that much smoke there must be a fire some place.  Right?

Or are we all being duped by an elaborate fog machine?

Strip the eye-witness testimony from this case and nothing remains but junk science.

There’s the bloody footprint.  The Mississippi Crime Lab has shown that the print was made by a size 10-11 Grant Hill Fila running shoe.  An empty shoe box for a pair of 10.5 Grant Hill Filas was found in a chest of drawers owned by Connie Moore, Curtis Flowers’ live-in girlfriend.

Connie Moore says the shoe box is from a pair of Filas she purchased for her son Marcus.  Marcus confirms this testimony.

Smoke or fog?

The problem pile grows.  The pool of blood grew gradually in the half hour between the murders and the arrival of Sam Jones (the first man to witness the crime scene).  Moments after the killing there would have been little blood to step in.

Sam Jones has testified that the print wasn’t there when he arrived at the Tardy furniture store.

An older white witness named Porky Collins claims to have seen two black men walking toward Tardys at around 10:00, a moment or two after Sam Jones ran off to report the crime.

Grant Hill Filas were a marketing sensation in the summer of 1996, with over 600,000 pair in the size 10-11 range purchased nationally.  Every young man in Winona who could make the $100 price tag owned a pair.

Smoke or fog?

Then we have the single particle of gunshot residue found on the web of the defendant’s right hand.  Doug Evans has a little mantra: particles of lead, barium and antimony (with a unique spherical morphology) can only be produced by the discharge of a firearm.

Does this mean Curtis Flowers fired a gun on the morning of July 16, 1996?  The jury may be thinking along these lines, but claims from expert witnesses are more modest.  A single particle of residue (and an unusually tiny particle at that) can easily be picked up by casual contact, especially if you are in a highly contaminated environment.  Curtis Flowers was picked up by two officers, taken to the police station in a police car, and was questioned at the police station.  Studies have shown that gunshot residue is ubiquitous in all these environments.

Smoke or fog?

The residue evidence in the Flowers case is meaningless.  Judge Joey Loper was asked to restrict testimony on the residue issue but ruled for the state (his standard practice).

A crime this horrific inspires sympathy for the victims and a deep craving for justice, but junk science alone falls short of a conviction.

Enter the witnesses.

For the past few days we have witnessed a parade of sad, compromised black people testifying that, fourteen years ago, they saw Curtis Flowers walking in the direction of the Angelica garment factory, hanging around the Angelica parking lot, returning home, heading downtown, walking in the direction of the furniture store, arguing with an unidentified stranger on the Boulevard in front of Tardys, and running from the scene of the crime.

Smoke or fog?

One or two of these people may come off as a bit addled, but you still have six or seven fingers pointing at Mr. Flowers.

In fact, so many people claim to have seen the defendant doing so many things, at so many times, and in so many places that even the prosecutor and defense counsel have a hard time keeping all the details straight.

Who are these people, and why do they keep repeating the same tortured testimony year-after-year?

There’s Patricia Hollman, the woman who saw Curtis Flowers heading north to get to a southern destination.  Elaine Ghoulston, the sharp-eyed neighbor who detected a pair of Grant Hill Fila running shoes at a distance 200 feet (I paced it off yesterday morning).

There’s Katherine Snow who first said she saw a five-foot-six stranger with a cap leaning against a car in the Angelica parking lot and then, a month later, remembered that she had really seen a five-foot-ten, hatless, Curtis Flowers.

There’s Jeanette Fleming who waited seven months to report meeting a flirtatious Curtis Flowers (“Hi, good-looking!”).  Fleming was working at McDonald’s when officers spirited her off to the police station for a little tete-a-tete.  She has no idea how they got her name.

There’s Charles “Porky” Collins, the man who, in a single eventful morning witnessed (a) Carmen Rigby entering Tardy Furniture for the last time, (b) Curtis Flowers arguing with an unnamed buddy in front of the store, and (c) Doyle Simpson reporting his gun stolen.  In the midst of all this activity, Collins made three failed attempts to visit a dry cleaning establishment.

There’s Odell Hallomon who claims an extreme addiction to cigarettes drove him to accuse his loving sister of perjury.  In the second trial, Hallomon testified that he and Patricia Hallomon cooked up a story about Curtis Flowers to get their hands on the $30,000 reward.  In a letter to Curtis’ mother, Odell said he knew his family would reject him for telling the truth, but he was determined to do the right thing.

“When I got out of prison, my momma was on me everyday,” Odell explained today.  After a few weeks of constant harassment from his mother and sister, he got on the phone and told Doug Evans he was going to change his story.

Mr. Evans has done his best to harmonize this flurry of testimony, but serious problems remain.  Jeanette Fleming saw Curtis a block from Tardys at 9:00 am and Clemmie Fleming saw him running away from the furniture store 60 minutes later.  Would a murderer spend a full hour at the crime scene?  What did he do, and where did he go between 9:40 (when the bodies were first discovered) and 10:00 when Clemmie saw him leaving the scene?

While Clemmie saw Curtis fleeing the scene, Porky Collins saw him engaged in a vigorous argument on the boulevard.

Police initially had two suspects: Doyle Simpson and Curtis Flowers.  Shortly after Porky reported his strange tale to the police, Doyle had been eliminated as a suspect.  This made the second man (and his two-tone, dusty, brown Pontiac) superfluous, but the report could not be altered.  Doug Evans copes by pretending that Porky never mentioned a second man.

If Curtis had access to a vehicle, why did he leave on foot?

And why is there no overlap in the way the various witnesses describe the defendant’s physical appearance?  They have him wearing shorts, “windpants”, dress pants (of various colors), T-shirts (in a rainbow of colors and several designs), a hat, a shaved head, short hair, and, remarkably, a jacket–this on a scorching Mississippi summer’s day.

The problems with the eyewitness testimony are too numerous for a single post, but you get the idea.

Is the state’s case generating smoke or is that a fog of confusion settling over the courtroom.

And why would any self-respecting prosecutor allow himself to be associated with witnesses this unconvincing?  Doug Evans created these witnesses.  They are his puppets.  They twirl and sing at his command.  Sure, you can win convictions by suborning perjury, but have you no pride man?  Is this the legacy you had in mind when you left law school?

Why did all these people, over a period of nine months, agree to sign Curtis Flowers’ death warrant?  Was it greed, fear, a desire to be left alone, or a combination of all these factors?

At the end of Clemmie Fleming’s testimony on Monday, defense attorney Ray Carter asked her why it took nine long months for her to turn on Curtis Flowers.

“They told me there was a baby in it?” the dead-pan witness responded.

“A baby?” Carter said.

Clemmie explained that the 16 year-old Bobo Stewart, one of the victims, was just like a baby in her eyes (she was 21 at the time).  Outraged by this new information, she broke her silence.

Carter asked one final question.  “You don’t believe that Curtis Flowers killed those people at Tardys, do you Clemmie?”

“No, sir,” she replied softly.

So let’s get this straight.  Outraged by the death of an innocent adolescent, Clemmie decided to implicate an innocent man.

Ponder that, dear reader, and you’ll know why Friends of Justice is in Winona.

The tension at the courthouse deepens by the day.  One observer described a brief encounter with an indignant woman.  “Are you with the Friends of Justice?” she asked.

“No,” he replied, “I’m from Greenwood.”

The woman softened instantly.  “Oh, then I’m sorry for glaring at you,” she said.

By now, everybody on the white side of the room knows who I am and they’re all glaring (yes, I notice).  I was standing outside the courthouse, fumbling with my Blackberry, when I glimpsed a middle-aged gentleman glancing in my direction.

“By the way,” he said, “I find you disgusting.”

“Thank you, sir,” I replied in the calmest voice I could muster.

“You’re welcome,” he snarled.

18 thoughts on “Smoke or fog: Curtis Flowers Trial, Day Eight

  1. Apparently, Mr. Bean, you have some smoke and fog in your eyes. I resent the fact that you are referring to the proscution side of the room as the WHITE side. There once again is a racist comment. Need I remind you that Robert Golding was an African American. His poor family has lost so much. His son died this year, his wife’s health is so bad she can’t even attend this circus. Also, I saw many African Americans sitting on the white side. Mr. Bean, everyone has their own opinions on this trial. Don’t you think if you kept your racist comments to yourself that our town can try to heal once you and yours get out of here.

  2. Oh alan your a character I hope you saw me glaring at you ….I sit on the “white side” but face it the man is guilty whether you like it or not….I’d be careful with your comments us folks down in mississippi don’t play around

  3. Dr. Bean,
    Any sane human being can see this trial is a mockery of the justice system and there are some people there in W. Mississippi that have no problem obstructing justice.
    Smoke or fog mmm…? Either way it doesn’t matter, because these are elements cowards thrive on. Seems as though W. Mississippi has plenty of cowards volunteering to manipulate this trial for their own selfish reason other than the truth.
    Hang in there and take their threats seriously, fear and fools are a dangerous combination.

  4. For Mississippi to be such a bad place. All of my African American friends seem to love their home. People give it up and stop badgering Mississippi. It is called the HOSPITALITY state for a reason. I understand if you have your own opinions about this trial, but keep your own speculations to yourself. I, myself, wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

  5. I agree that Mr. Alan Bean is a very vibrant writer and if I was just reading his blogs and only his blog then I would think that Curtis was innocent too…but I’ve been able to hear the case and make my own opinion and it’s not the same as Mr. Alan….Just remember there are two sides of the story and the true in the middle…don’t believe everything you read on this site…

  6. Mr. Bean, why don’t you go back where you came from? You are the one who is a racist!!!! I was in the courtroom three days and I saw blacks(on the white side) too, as you call it. You must have trouble seeing, because I saw blacks and whites sitting on the left, right and in the middle of the courtroom or are you color blind? That could be your problem. Maybe when you get through with you racist problem, you can have an eye examination. Have a good day and may God Bless YOU!

  7. The articles are wrtten to make Winona (and Mississippi) look like we have a “hanging tree” on the town square and we all gather around while wearing white sheets. This way, the rest of the world will think we are that way. If bean were really interested in Winona, he would go to the ball park during summer ball and see that both whites and blacks P-L-A-Y together. We all yell for the kids to win. When any player gets hurt, we all stand up and worry. At the end of the season a party is thrown for ALL the players on that team. One party! Can you just believe that? But thanks to this group, maybe they will educate Winona and things will change! Yeah, we need the blacks to mistrust and hate the whites and we need the whites to look down and judge the blacks! NOT! Mr. Bean just would like to be to Winona what david jordan is to Greenwood.

  8. I’ve heard this and agree…What’s sad is that if the store had a surveillance system, and there was a clear video of Flowers killing those people, you would still say that he was innocent. Everyone knows this is true, even you, because you are against white people, period. You are a tremendous racist, nothing more. You are reaching. You are finding the most ridiculous excuses. People are laughing at you and your pitiful views and opinions. What’s funny to me, is that there are a whole lot of black people that want to see Flowers get his, because the entire black community knows he did it. The bad thing is that there are plenty willing to lie to free this murderer. Let’s not forget that he’s such a nice man, that he shot someone before, so sure, there’s no way he could do that again. Ha Ha, yeah right. He did it. Give him the chair, he really needs it. The more cold-blooded murderers we get rid of the better off everyone will be, black and white.

  9. The hospitality in Winona and elsewhere in Mississippi is wonderful, no doubt. The quality of justice is no better in Texas than Mississippi and the appeals system is worse. This case doesn’t just reflect badly on Winona, although it certainly does; it reflects badly on the American justice system. We incarcerate and execute more people per capita down South, but things aren’t much better in Yankeeland.

  10. I think everyone got the point. I am a white person sitting on the black side, and there are a few black people on the white side; but the right side of the courtroom has about as much black representation as the jury in this case.

  11. Sounds like Mr. Bean came to the South to get the blacks hating the whites. It may work for some, but not for all. Mr. Bean,why don’t you take your racist self back where you came from and leave us black and white folks alone. We love each other and there is nothing you can do about it!!!!

  12. Who in there right mind would be representing Curtis Flowers??? That’s why I sit an the right side of the courtroom and proud of it!!!

  13. Exactly. Mr. Bean wants everyone to believe only what he writes and not the truth.

  14. Mr. Bean, a few questions –
    1. Are you a minister that brings God’s people together, or do you have another purpose? Once this is over, the Winona people will be here to heal and move on, and you’ll be in another community stirring up trouble.
    2. Have you tried to find the location of Robert Golden’s wife so that you might go and have a prayer with her during this most difficult time?
    3. Have you sought out the families of Robert Golden, Bobo Stewart, or Bertha Tardy to show your sympathy for them?
    4. Do you have all your facts straight and realize that Curtis Flowers isn’t the “GOLDEN BOY” you portray him to be? Yeah, it is the truth, but prior things that he did as an adolescent can’t be brought up in this trial. (and if you think I’m being untruthful, ask his father – I believe he’ll tell you the truth)
    5. What do you think about Ray Carter tampering with the evidence? You failed to mention it in your daily journaling of court events.
    6. Do you perceive me as being WHITE because I call you on your wrongdoings? You’d be so wrong if you do.
    7. Will you reply?

  15. When you critique controversial cases like we do, certain forms of ministry are off the table. If I had reached out to the victims, then turned around and discredited an investigation in which they are deeply invested, they would have felt betrayed–and with good reason. The prosecution tells the story from the perspective of the victims’ families; I tell it from the perspective of the defendant.

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