I don’t think so.
Who is Curtis Flowers, you ask?
He hails from Winona, Mississippi. He’s just shy of his 50th birthday and half his life has been spent in county jails, state prison or, most recently, house arrest.
Flowers stands accused of killing four people in a Winona furniture store in 1996 and he’s been to trial six times on the same charges.
That’s a record.
I have likened the story to Groundhog Day. Every time the good people of Winona think the nightmare is over, it’s back to square one.
There are two reasons this case keeps resetting.
When the jury has significant African American representation the prosecution can’t get a conviction.
But Doug Evans can’t get an all-white jury without wearing his racial bias on his sleeve.
If the defendant is black and the victim is white, prosecutors always try to come as close to an all-white jury as possible.
When the state’s case is unusually weak, the temptation to bend the rules is particularly strong because, especially in the Deep South, it doesn’t take much to convince a white jury that a black man behaved badly.
Few public officials would admit this, but everyone knows it’s true.
Unfortunately, when you want an all-white jury and the pool of prospective jurors is half black, you can’t be subtle. It’s hard to do sleight of hand card tricks wearing oven mitts. And Doug Evans’ behavior during jury selection has been so biased that even the Mississippi Supreme Court couldn’t look the other way.
And when they finally did, the federal court threw out the verdict. Justice Brett Kavanaugh (yes, that Brett Kavanaugh) is horrified by the state’s behavior.
When I first starting working on this case in 2008, Curtis had already gone to trial five times. I argued that the only way to break the impasse was to let the Mississippi Attorney General take the case.
Spend a minute or two perusing the evidence against Curtis and the case looks pretty strong.
Mr. Evans has witnesses placing Curtis at the scene of the crime, fleeing the scene, walking to and from the scene and coming and going from his home at suspicious times.
But the more time you spend sifting through the discernible facts the worse things look for the prosecution. I was convinced that, if the Attorney General’s Office re-interview the state’s witnesses, the case would crumble to dust in their hands.
That’s because most witnesses was bullied or bribed into making false statements and then threatened with jail time if they recanted.
The In the Dark team spent a year on the ground in Winona conducting interviews before they began airing segments. The harder they pressed the worse things looked until, toward the end of the year-long process, one witness after another recanted, the federal Supreme Court tossed the most recent conviction, and DA Evans was forced to recuse himself from the case.
That’s why, a little over a year ago, every major news outlet in America was talking about Curtis Flowers.
Media attention remained strong in early 2020 when Judge Joey Loper distanced himself from the Flowers debacle, rebuked the prosecution for dragging its feet, and granted bail to the defendant.
Then, in February of this year, DA Evans recused himself and the Mississippi AG’s office promised to conduct a careful review.
The media circus has packed up and moved on. I am presently getting one-tenth the traffic to my Curtis Flowers page I was getting in December, and I expect the number of hits at the In the Dark site has dropped at a similar rate.
Media coverage is notoriously fickle, of course, and as I write, the Covid-19 pandemic is sucking all the oxygen out of the newsroom.
Which makes this the perfect time for the Mississippi AG to wash her hands of this case.
Lynn Fitch, Mississippi’s newly elected Attorney General, has three choices.
She can retry the case.
She can drop the charges, making Curtis Flowers a free man.
Or she can do nothing.
Retrying the case is a non-starter. That doesn’t mean Fitch won’t do it. Public officials make career-ending mistakes all the time. It is unlikely, however, that anyone who testified for the state in the last trial will be sticking to their stories.
The forensic evidence, such as it is, has also been thoroughly discredited.
Besides, the unfortunate prosecutor assigned to this case would be desperate to avoid the slightest sign of racial bias, and that means trying the case before a racially diverse jury.
Some white jurors might convict even in the absence evidence, but a conviction isn’t in the cards.
Dropping the case altogether might be procedurally easy, but it would be politically painful.
When I tried to raise concerns about the Flowers case a dozen years ago, every attorney and public official I talked to assured me that Curtis was guilty as hell.
The media wouldn’t investigate.
And now these people must admit that they were wrong, individually and collectively. It will be a public relations disaster that reinforces the Magnolia State’s hard-earned reputation for racial bigotry.
Could AG Fitch drop the case without inviting backlash?
Few would criticize her publicly, of course (this case is far too toxic for that). But because the Flowers case is all tangled up in culture war politics, Fitch could be denounced as a traitor-to-the-tribe behind closed door.
Which explains why, thus far, Fitch has done nothing.
It’s the safest move.
Defense counsel may eventually argue that justice delayed is justice denied, but Fitch could drag things out even further by challenging a speedy trial motion.
Since no one is currently paying attention, delay may seem the savvy choice.
But a decision will eventually have to be made.
Fitch must decide whether she wants to walk away from this mess now (when her decision will be buried on page B16) or wait until the pandemic is old news and reporters are prowling for a hot story?