The Mississippi Supreme Court has vacated the 2010 conviction of Curtis Flowers, sending the case back to prosecutor Doug Evans. There is nothing surprising or unusual happening here. It’s how the system works. The Mississippi Court is simply complying with a command issued by its federal counterpart.
Doug Evans is now free to try the case an unprecedented seventh time, drop the charges, or pass the whole mess to somebody else (like Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood).
What is Doug Evans going to do with Curtis Flowers?
Legally, it is as if Curtis has been freshly indicted for murdering four people in a Winona, Mississippi furniture store in 1996. As if the intervening quarter century, and all six trials in this strange saga, suddenly vanished.
An irresistible force and an immovable object are wrestling inside Doug Evans’ soul. The irresistible force is the fact that he has staked his professional reputation on the guilt of Curtis Flowers. The white population of Winona (with a handful of exceptions) has swallowed Evans’ narrative whole and will not look kindly on their champion should he suddenly walk away.
The immovable object is the complete collapse of the evidence against Mr. Flowers.
The two star witnesses from trial six have been thoroughly discredited. Patricia Odom Sullivan, the woman who lived in the duplex next door to Curtis Flowers, has done federal prison time for tax evasion. Just as significantly, Patricia has backed away from her trial testimony.
Patricia’s brother Odell Hallmon was released from Parchman prison (in partial payment for repeatedly testifying that Curtis confessed to the crime). Odell used the precious gift of freedom to casually slaughter three friends and family members in a drug-related beef. A fourth victim barely escaped with his life.
As if that weren’t enough, Odell now says he made up his story about Curtis confessing the crime in exchange for a get-out-of-jail free card.
And then there is Clemmie Fleming, the witness who has repeatedly testified that she saw Curtis fleeing the scene of the crime. She saw Curtis in that general vicinity, she says, but has no idea when.
The case against Curtis Flowers was bound to collapse in the face of sustained critique. I have been saying as much for over a decade. But last year the In the Dark podcast spent a full year on the streets of Winona looking into every conceivable aspect of this case. Without this miraculous barrage of investigative journalism I doubt the case could have made it to the federal Supreme Court.
I could go on, but you get the idea. If Curtis Flowers went to trial a seventh time, who would testify? Most of the witnesses were bullied into signing statements, then threatened with prosecution if they failed to testify accordingly. And even if they do testify that they saw Curtis walking here or there on the day in question, it no longer adds up to anything. The witness who says she saw Curtis leave his home, and the witness who tied Curtis to the crime scene have been hopelessly discredited.
The case against Curtis Flowers was overturned because Doug Evans went to heroic lengths to keep black residents off the jury. With the whole world watching, he can’t pull that trick again. A fairly selected jury would have, give or take, an equal number of black and white jurors. In trial six (I was there) potential white jurors were eager to get on the jury while many black residents were understandably reluctant to serve. After In the Dark, that dynamic is reversed.
My strong sense is that most white folks in Montgomery County haven’t listened to a single episode of In the Dark and thus still believe Doug Evans has a strong case. Most black folks, by comparison, awaited each new episode with eager longing and are well briefed on the complexities of the case.
If Evans takes the case to trial one more time, and if we end up with a jury with significant black representation, a conviction is virtually impossible.
How about an acquittal?
Both acquittal and conviction require a unanimous jury, and that’s a hard sell in Winona. Hard, but not impossible.
For one thing, Rob McDuff, Mr. Flowers’ lead attorney, is a patient and persuasive man who knows how to talk to white jurors.
Secondly, as strange as this will sound to many of my secular readers, religion could play an important role.
Regardless of denomination or race, folks in Mississippi take their religion seriously. It is probably the most devout state in the union. So, when the jury gets down to discussing the particulars of the case, folks will talk about the Bible, somebody will ask if they can “lead in prayer” and in that atmosphere anything is possible.
This is especially true now that the black side Winona is convinced that Curtis is innocent while most white residents are aware that (a) In the Dark is widely perceived to have demolished Doug Evans’ case and (b) several very conservative Supreme Court justices have real problems with the case. White residents may still think Curtis is guilty, but they used to know he was guilty and the difference matters.
Doug Evans can’t drop the charges in this case without signalling that he was wrong about Curtis all along. That would be political suicide and Evans knows it.
On the other hand, taking the case to trial might make him look foolish, obsessed and downright malicious.
A seventh trial would be a media circus. I was in Jena, Louisiana when 50,000 people from across the nation showed up to protest the treatment of six African American high school students. So many people headed to Jena that day that the highway was a parking lots with hundreds of buses lined up for miles. Something similar will happen if Curtis Flowers goes to trial again, and that will be true even if interest in the case dissipates considerably and even if there is a change of venue.
My prediction, therefore, is that Doug Evans will kick the case to the Attorney General’s office on the grounds that, thanks to the nefarious scheming of liberal outside agitators, the wheels of justice have ground to a halt. Evans could say he believes the evidence is strongly on his side, but the system has been hopelessly compromised.
Jim Hood, Mississippi’s Attorney General, is the only democrat holding statewide office in the Magnolia state. He’s running for governor and needs plenty of conservative white votes to prevail in the general election. This explains why, thus far, Hood hasn’t pressed Evans’ hand. But if the whole mess landed in his lap, Hood would have no choice but to turn Flowers loose and hope for the best. The sitting Attorney General also needs millions of enthusiastic black voters to put him over the top.
Politics, not justice, is driving the process and we shouldn’t expect that to change. With Jim Hood adopting a passive stance, Doug Evans may conclude that taking the case to trial a seventh time is the lesser of two evils.
The Grenada DA may decide that losing at trial is better than losing face. And if that happens, Mississippi needs an intervention, divine or otherwise. Because, whether white Winona knows it or not, a seventh trial would be a fraught and dangerous enterprise.
So let’s pray for Curtis Flowers and his family. And let’s also pray for the better angels of Doug Evans’ nature (if such there be). And let’s also pray that a few good, Christian men and women from Winona’s white community will take their champion aside and tell him it’s all over.