CNN Story on Flowers Verdict

CNN’s Emanuella Grinberg did an excellent job of covering the final days of the Curtis Flowers trial from every conceivable angle.  Emanuella got her start in journalism with Court TV, so she has a good feel for courtroom dynamics.

One crime, six trials and a 30-minute guilty verdict

By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
 
June 18, 2010 5:45 p.m. EDT

Winona, Mississippi (CNN) — The fatigue was palpable by the eighth day of Curtis Flowers’ sixth murder trial.

On the ninth day — Friday — Flowers was found guilty of four counts of murder in the July 16, 1996, shooting deaths of four people inside the Tardy family’s furniture store in downtown Winona.

The seven women and five men on the jury took just half an hour to resolve a case that has haunted the courts of Mississippi for 13 years.

“I’m not surprised by the verdict, given the makeup of the jury, but I am a little surprised by the speed,” said Alan Bean, who got involved in the case through his nonprofit group, Friends of Justice, which examines cases of suspected wrongful prosecutions.

Three times before, Flowers was found guilty, but the convictions were overturned by the appeals courts. He received two death sentences, which also were overturned.

Two other trials ended with hung juries.

On Friday, Mississippi justice seemed headed on a swifter course. Jurors heard evidence to help them decide whether Flowers, 40, should be punished for his crime with the death penalty.

But in court on Thursday, some folks seemed worn out by the long-running legal saga. A few jurors stared off into space. Members of the audience dozed off, while others slowly trickled out of the courtroom. Circuit Judge Joseph Loper occasionally wrung his hands as Flowers’ attorney questioned a witness.

Tardy Furniture’s storefront, located at the end of a row of dusty, shuttered businesses on Front Street, still bears the last name of its original owner, Tom Tardy, even though the family sold the World War II-era relic in 2004. But Mississippi’s courts have been slow to deliver justice for in the deaths of Bertha Tardy, the store’s owner, and employees Carmen Rigby, Robert Golden and Derrick “Bobo” Stewart.

Prosecutors alleged that Flowers, a former employee, stole a gun from his uncle’s car and shot Tardy because she had fired him two weeks before the killings and docked his pay for damaging a pair of golf cart batteries. He allegedly shot the others to eliminate witnesses, and then took money from the cash register, which elevated the offense to capital murder and made him eligible for the death penalty.

“You wonder if there’s ever going to be closure. By the time one trial’s over, we’re getting ready for the next,” said Randy Stewart, the father of 16-year-old Derrick Stewart. The star pitcher of Winona High School’s baseball team had started a summer job at Tardy’s the day before the shootings.

If history is any teacher, Friday’s verdict may not end things.

The earlier convictions were reversed, based on findings of prosecutorial misconduct in the first two trials and racial discrimination in choosing the jury in the third trial. The fourth trial ended in a hung jury, with panelists split 5-7 along racial lines. The fifth trial, in 2008, also ended in a mistrial after a lone black juror held out for acquittal.

The previous outcomes raised allegations from the defendant’s supporters that the prosecution is racially motivated. They say Flowers cannot get a fair trial in Montgomery County as long as whites outnumber blacks on the jury. This time around, one black juror and two black alternates were chosen.

The case came under broader national scrutiny after being featured on a blog run by Friends of Justice.

“I became interested in this case because virtually all the problems that have been leading to wrongful convictions are involved in this case, so I wanted to know how this prosecution was put together,” said Bean, who has visited Winona seven times in the past 14 months to reconstruct witness accounts of the shooting at Tardy’s.

A step in the right direction, according to Bean, would be to seat a jury that represents the racial diversity of Montgomery County, where about 45 percent of the population is black. But at the sixth trial, some blacks in the jury pool were dismissed because of personal ties to the defendant and his family, while others were excused because they said they would be unable to consider the death penalty.

A study released earlier this month by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit human rights and legal services organization based in Montgomery, Alabama, found that racial discrimination in jury selection is widespread and seemingly tolerated. Two years of research in eight Southern states, including Mississippi, revealed that racially biased use of peremptory strikes and illegal racial discrimination persists in serious criminal cases and capital cases.

The consequences, according to the initiative, are that “all-white juries tend to spend less time deliberating, make more errors, and consider fewer perspectives.”

Also, longstanding Gallup polling of support for the death penalty has found a consistent schism between blacks and whites, with 70 percent of whites favoring it compared with 40 percent of blacks.

Many in Winona, including the victims’ families, resent the suggestions that race is playing a role in the only known instance in recent history of a person standing trial six times for capital murder. They blame Friends of Justice for injecting “the race card” into the trial.

Many Winona residents believe that while the circumstantial evidence against Flowers is strong, their beloved town has moved beyond the era when police picked up civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer in 1963 and severely beat her.

“I would feel just as equally toward a white man as I do toward Curtis Flowers,” said Brian Rigby, who played baseball with “Bobo” Stewart and had just graduated from high school when his mother was killed.

I would feel just as equally toward a white man as I do toward Curtis Flowers.

“When someone takes the life of a loved one, you could care less their skin color,” he said. “You don’t care about their religion, their race. You don’t care about anything. You don’t look at them as a color, but as a person who took your loved one’s life.”

He points out that a black man also died in Tardy’s showroom that morning. Robert Golden, a married father of two who had taken on a part-time job at Tardy’s for extra money, was shot twice in the head, his brother, Willie George Golden, said.

“It’s not easy. I’m sitting on two sides of the aisle,” he said, referring to the racial dynamics in the courtroom.

During the most recent trial, the pews behind the defendant have been mostly filled with black people, along with Bean and observers from his group, who are white. The rows behind the prosecution table consist primarily of whites, with the exception of Golden, a local reporter and the occasional member of the public.

“Curtis’ father — we used to hunt and fish together. When you grow up around people and you’re used to speaking to them and saying hello … This is not an easy thing for me,” Golden said outside of court on Wednesday. “No one says, ‘I’m sorry you lost your brother.’ There’s people in this town to this day who act like I haven’t lost anything.”

There’s people in this town to this day who act like I haven’t lost anything.

Whether racism is alive and well in Winona depends on who you ask in the small town, where a smile or a nod is customary when you pass someone, and Wednesday night means all-you-can-eat catfish at Willy’s off Interstate 52.

“They don’t call you n****r as much,” a black retired state employee said outside the courthouse this week. “It’s not as open as it was, but they still got their ways of keeping you on a different level.” He spoke on the condition that CNN not publish his name.

Several black people attending the trial said most in Winona’s black community believe Flowers is innocent, based on his reputation as an easygoing guy who like his father, the manager of a popular convenience store, sang in a gospel choir.

They also believe that the circumstantial evidence was not strong enough for a conviction.

Observers on the other side of aisle say Winona is a peaceful place that has earned a bad reputation because of the trial.

“Sure, Winona has its history, but that was a long time ago. Nowadays, blacks and whites work together in Winona, we pray together, we get together on holidays and celebrate together,” said Eunice Evans, a retired nurse who sat in on the trial. “It’s nothing like it used to be.”

Such debate presumably took place outside the notice of the jury, which was sequestered for the duration of the trial. Jurors were instructed by the judge to limit their knowledge of the case to what they heard from the witnesses in the courtroom.

Several prosecution witnesses testified that they saw Flowers the morning of the shootings, including a woman who told the jury that she saw him running from the store at about the time of the killings. To rebut her testimony, the defense called the woman’s sister, who said she was at her house that morning.

Another witness who worked at a now defunct garment factory with Flowers’ uncle testified that she saw Flowers in the factory parking lot near his uncle’s car before the shootings. The uncle, Doyle Simpson, testified that a .380-caliber pistol was stolen from his car that morning.

A prosecution firearms analyst told jurors that he was able to match shell casings from the crime scene to spent rounds that Simpson provided to investigators, which he claimed were fired by the stolen gun. A firearms expert for the defense, however, testified that he could not arrive at the same conclusion without having access to the murder weapon or Simpson’s gun, neither of which was ever recovered.

The prolonged legal ordeal has turned those involved into amateur experts in the justice system. Knowing from previous experience that a death sentence triggers an automatic appeal, the victims’ families got together before the fourth trial and asked prosecutor Doug Evans to take the death penalty off the table.

If Flowers were convicted and sentenced to life without parole, they reasoned, he would have to convince a higher court to consider his appeal based on its merits.

“I support the death penalty, but it’s not gonna bring Bobo back,” said Stewart’s brother, Dale, over lunch Thursday at the Mexican restaurant in Winona.

“It would be worth it for him to get life so we can move on.”

17 thoughts on “CNN Story on Flowers Verdict

  1. The author was wrong about the defense fire arm analyst disagreeing with the Mississippi Crime lab prosecution expert. Both ballistics experts from the prosecution and defense were 100% positive most of the bullet fired were from a .380 caliber hand gun. The defense witness could not positively identify two bullet FRAGMENTS were from a .380 caliber but said they were consistent with a .380 caliber. The defense tried to make a big issue of this, but basically both experts agreed. I was in the courtroom and heard both testimonies. Most of this article is factual but the press often gets little things like this twisted to get their point across. Also I talked with 3 of the 4 victim families during the trial. All were wanting closure and said they would be satisfied with life imprisonment. After attending all 10 days of the trial, I heard the strongest circumstantial evidence I have ever heard in a trial and would say Curtis Flowers deserves the death penalty.

  2. all i can say is i hope they overturn the appeal and the last time we will hear about this sorry individual is when we read his name in the obituaries 🙂

  3. I too think this was a good article by CNN. It pretty well tells the readers that Allen Bean came to Winona to stirr up trouble between the African Americans and the whites but our people are better than that. Therefore, the only african Amreicans supporting Flowers was his imediate family and a half of dozen close buddies. Mr Bean would have you think that this is the first person to be tried 6 times in the history of our country. Not so, Ray Bolin from Florida was tried 8 times with the last trial being in2005 and since then his appeals have been denied and he is on death row waiting to be esecuted. He killed a 25 year old female back in 1986. There was another lady tried 6 times in Warren county Ms. for the killing of her x boy Friend’s girl friend. There are many more like these I’m sure. So you can’t believe all of what Bean reports, for he is lacking in telling the truth! By the way, Flowers was given two opportunitie to testify and plea for his life, he did neither. The expression on his face was the same when they issued the guilty verdict as it was when the judge gave him the death sentence. His expression never changed.He is a very cold hearted individual! A lot like Bean!

  4. I too attended parts of the trial. I heard very little of the prosecution’s part, but I did hear a great deal of the defense’s testimony.
    Am I 100% sure that Curtis Flowers is guilty? No.
    Am I 100% sure he is innocent? No.
    Could I free him and be assured of the safety of the public? No.
    Do I wonder if he acted alone or was there someone else involved? Yes.
    Was my husband who was there for this trial and the last and has heard every bit of testimony convinced he is guilty? Yes.
    Which way do I lean? I lean towards guilty. Why? Because of his mother Lola’s testimony during sentencing. Why? (And yes I know her, she is an acquaintance.)
    Not because she apologized to the victims families, but because she began saying in an apologetic way “if this was your child wouldn’t you…” and that is as far as the defense, the prosecution and the judge would let her go. And more than that, I saw a mother that deep in a dark recess of her heart knows that her son is guilty. I was overwhelmed with this feeling…she knows, but she doesn’t know what to do.
    What should really happen? Curtis and his family who are Christians should sit down with the DA, their attorneys and the victims’ families and tell the truth. Only Curtis Flowers really and truly knows what happened that day. And then the people along with the victims’ families should decide what should happen next, death or life. And then and only then will there be closure and healing can begin-for everybody, the Ballards, the Rigbys, the Stewarts, the Goldens and the Flowers.

  5. Closure:

    I suspect you speak for many in Winona. Just a couple of points. If you have doubts as to whether Curtis “acted alone” you have doubts about the state’s theory of the case. There is no room in Doug Evans’ theory of the crime for a second actor, no matter what Porky Collins saw. Everyone saw Curtis alone. If he did the deed, he acted alone. If you doubt a single person could have pulled off a crime this heinous (even if they wanted to) then you believe Curtis is not the killer. Secondly, your sense that Curtis is guilty appears to be based on something Lola Flowers attempted to say and could not say. She was stopped from completing her sentence because she was speaking during the sentencing phase where it is no longer permissible to argue for innocence, even if you believe the defendant is innocent. The first section of Lola’s statement appeared to be a prelude to an innocence claim, or something close to it. She told me after she returned to her seat that she didn’t think it was fair that other family members were able to speak about the personal impact of this ordeal but she could not. I have spent many days with Lola and, believe me, she believes 100% in her son’s innocence. If you intuited another message, you misread her. Curtis once told me that if they offered him his freedom in exchange for an admission he would stay in prison because he refuses to admit to somebody else’s crime out of personal convenience. You can dismiss this as false bravado if you wish, but I take him at his word.

    Alan Bean

  6. Alan Bean wants to make you think that one person could not commit 4 murders! I wonder if he is so sure of his theory that he would get in a room with 3 other people with a killer like Flowers with him having an automatic pistol and feel he could escape before he got shot. But in this situation, there may not have been all 4 people in the room alive at the same time! Mr. Bean also said that this was the only time in the history of our country that a person has been tried 6 times for the same murder! There are cases where people have not only been tried 6 times but as much as 8 times and is now on death row waiting to be excuted!
    I can assure you we will never rest until justice is done if it means trying him 30 times! and I don’t think the majority of the people thinks there were more than one killer. How many people in Winona have you talked with? I can assure you of one thing, The people of Winona do not want you speaking for them!

  7. Can you give names and places for the people who have been tried 8 times and are now on death row. Mr. Bean has said that he has found no other instance of anyone being tried 6 times, and if any one has knowledge of such to tell him. You have made a claim, but have not given any particulars.

  8. The number of times Flowers has been tried is irrelevant, just like his juvenile record. If a verdict is overturned by the Supreme Court it is just like it never happened, you have to start over. The same is true for a mistrial and a hung jury. Not once in six trials has he been found not guilty. If he had this would be over. The fact that there have been six trials only shows Curtis Flowers’ skill at playing the system. It is a great thing to live in a country that would rather have six trials than to possibly send an innocent man to his death. How many trials do you think is to many? Four? Five? May be we should stop at six and just accept that verdict. Somehow I think that Flowers and Friends of Justice will be begging for ANOTHER trial even though he has already had six. Should we just let him walk because he has had too many trials? The bottom line is that six trials only benefit one person and that is Curtis Flowers. If there is a seventh, he will still be the only one that could possibly benefit from it.

  9. Who are you charles, Bean’s flunky? give me your email address and I will email the case from Florida that was tried 8 times. Bean says there has never been anyone tried 6 times in the history of our country! This is about as reliable as everything else he says. Only the uneducated buys in to his untruths! I’m going to help you on this one, but you will have to try and correct everthing else he has reported wrong!

  10. I think this man was actually the first in this country to be tried six times.

    HUDSON, N.Y., March 1 — Oscar F. Beckwith, was hanged at the court house in this city at nine minutes past ten o’clock this morning for the murder of Simon Vandercook of Austerlitz, January 10, 1882.

    This case became celebrated from the fact that the murderer was six time sentenced to death but succeeded in escaping the penalty until to day. Beckwith, who is seventy-eight years old, is repulsive in appearance. His conduct during his two trials and three years of confinement has been brutal, and he evidently delights in showing that he is a fiend in human form.

    The crime was committed January 10, 1882. Beckwith lived alone in a hut in the town of Austerlitz, Columbia county. It was perched on the side of a mountain, where he believed there was a gold mine. For weeks and months he searched for the precious metal, but eventually a company purchased the land in the vicinity including the lot on which was located Beckwith’s little home. Vandercook, a robust, hearty man, about twenty-five years younger than Beckwith, was selected as manager of the property. From that time Beckwith entertained a hatred of Vandercook, and finally killed him and partly burned the body in a stove. On January 12 suspicions became aroused and a party of searchers headed by an officer went to Beckwith’s cabin and broke in the door. The dead body of Vandercook lay upon the floor. One ear, a foot and some other parts of the body had been cut off. The parts remaining were horribly mutilated, and a terrible stench pervaded the apartment. Two axes, on which were flesh, blood and gray hair, were found in one corner of the cabin. Three years passed without any tidings of the murderer. Detectives kept up the search, and in February of 1883 he was found chopping wood in a wild section of Ontario, Canada. He had been living there for some time under the name of White.

    In the course of time he was extradited and brought to Hudson. He was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to be hanged January 8, 1886. The case was taken to the general term, which confirmed the judgement of the lower court, and he was sentenced to be hanged, the day for execution being July 20. An appeal was taken to the court of appeals, which likewise affirmed the conviction and the date of Beckwith’s execution was fixed for the third time. The prisoner’s counsel, Levi F. Longley, then moved for a new trial on the ground of newly discovered evidence, and Judge Ingalls granted the same on the affidavits presented. Appeals were taken to both the general term and court of appeals by the prosecuting attorney, who opposed Judge Ingall’s order granting a new trial.

    The second trial was begun on February 2, 1887, but in the meantime the prisoner’s counsel asked for the appointment of a commission in lunacy to examine into Beckwith’s sanity.

    The commisssion, after hearing the testimony of several physicians and experts, pronounced him sane, and a second jury, after a week’s trial, found him guilty of the crime with which he was charged. The fourth day set for his execution was March 24, 1887. The case then went to the general term for a second time, with no better results than before, and he was sentenced for the fifth time to be hanged, the day set for the execution being October 14. The court of appeals was again resorted to, but soon all hope was lost, and the old man, almost tottering by the grave, was sentenced to be hanged Thursday, March 1.

    The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) Mar 1, 1888

  11. “Whether racism is alive and well in Winona depends on who you ask in the small town, where a smile or a nod is customary when you pass someone, and Wednesday night means all-you-can-eat catfish at Willy’s off Interstate 52.”

    ********************************************

    When I got to this line, I stopped reading. This writer, Emanuella Grinberg, got her information from dated material off the internet. Her story has ZERO credibility. She has NEVER been to Winona, MS, nor has she interviewed people from Winona, MS.

    Shame on you, Emanuella.

  12. Actually, Paul, she spent several days in Winona and all the comments made in the article were recorded during her stay.

  13. Where in the world is Willy’s off Interstate 52? Don’t think she is too careful with her facts.

  14. There IS no Willy’s, and there IS no Interstate 52 in Winona, MS. So WHOEVER she was “asking in the small town, where a smile or a nod is customary when you pass someone, and Wednesday night means all-you-can-eat catfish at Willy’s off Interstate 52…”….. Emanualla was NOT in Winona, MS…..

    Her comments are not credible. Period.

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