Category: Curtis Flowers

Flowers appeal is devastating

By Alan Bean

Just over three years after Curtis Flowers was convicted for murdering four people at a Mississippi furniture store in 1996, his attorneys have filed an appeal.  You may wonder how it could take three years to compose an appeal brief, especially in a case so open-and-shut that a jury took only 29 minutes to render a guilty verdict.

This wasn’t Curtis Flowers’ first courtroom rodeo.  In fact, he has gone to trial on these charges six times, more than any other capital defendant in the history of American jurisprudence.

Convictions in Flowers 1 and 2 were reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court due to gross prosecutorial misconduct (primarily arguing facts not in evidence) and racially biased jury selection procedures.  Other trials ended in hung juries, largely because DA Doug Evans, fearful of another reversal, didn’t take heroic measures to keep African Americans off the jury.  In the most dramatic case, five Black jurors voted to acquit while seven White jurors found Evans’ case convincing. (more…)

Great Daily Beast article on Curtis Flowers

Paul Alexander’s concise article in the Daily Beast provides the best summary of this complicated case published to date.  If you want to know more about DA Doug Evan’s ties to an unapologetically racist organization, or the reasons many (myself included) find the witnesses in this case less than credible, you can read Alexander’s eBook Mistried or check out my blogging on the subject.  But if you have never heard of Curtis Flowers and are wondering why Alexander calls him “Mississippi’s Marked Man” this is a great place to start.  Bottom line, this case has never been investigated, and that needs to change.  AGB

Curtis Flowers: Mississippi’s Marked Man

by  Jun 29, 2013 4:45 AM EDT

In a shocking case of injustice, an African-American has been tried for the same murder six times, pursued by a crusading prosecutor. Paul Alexander on Mississippi’s marked man

As the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida continues to grab national headlines, a case, now playing out in Mississippi, also raises questions about race and justice in America. (more…)

Noted author tackles the Curtis Flowers story

Alan Bean

Paul Alexander is the accomplished author of eight books, numerous eBooks, and over 100 major articles written for publications ranging from Rolling Stone to the New York Times.  When he stumbled across my blogging on the Curtis Flowers story, he was immediately interested.  A native of Birmingham, AL, Alexander knows how racial bias is infused into every facet of social life, including the criminal justice system.

Still, my conclusions were too damning to be taken at face value.  Alexander visited Winona, Mississippi, re-interviewed the folks I talked to several years ago, and dug up some fascinating (and disturbing) new information.

The result is Mistrieda gripping eBook released yesterday by RosettaBooks.  You can get the Kindle version for free at Amazon if you act quickly, (or pay $2.99 if you dawdle).  Most readers can digest the contents in less than two hours; the book is of very modest length because Alexander doesn’t waste a word.

If you like the book, please leave a comment and a five-star rating on the Amazon site.

Mistried

By Paul Alexander
Paul Alexander
Paul Alexander

Can a person be tried more than once for the same crime in the United States? Under usual circumstances, no. But in Mississippi, one man was tried six times for the same brutal crime-and his ordeal still hasn’t ended. (more…)

How about a federal-only death penalty?

Curtis Flowers at trial

Doug Berman is a law professor, sentencing expert and ardent blogger.  He could be described as a pragmatic progressive who wants to reform the criminal justice system but advocates policy proposals with a real chance of being implemented.  Berman notes that most people have moral problems with the death penalty but still want it available for “the worst of the worst”.  One solution is to restrict the ultimate penalty to the federal system and take it out of the hands of states courts altogether.

Unlike Berman, I am not a death penalty agnostic.  When I think of the death penalty I immediately envision Curtis Flowers, a demonstrably innocent man locked away in solitary confinement in Mississippi’s Parchman prison.  If the conviction in his record-setting sixth trial fails to hold (as is likely) and there is no way to retry Flowers at the state level without punting on the death penalty, District Attorney Doug Evans would have a dilemma on his hands.  The investigation of this case was so flawed, and the “evidence” presented to six juries has been so shamelessly manufactured that it would never withstand federal scrutiny.

Prosecutor Doug Evans’ intimate ties to the proudly racist Council of Conservative Citizens provides a partial explanation for his decision to build a case around the perjured testimony of a lying opportunist who is in federal prison for tax fraud using threats and the false promise of a $30,000 reward.  This case would disintegrate in minutes if it was handed to a competent federal prosecutor and the same could be said for dozens of other weak cases involving black defendants and racially biased prosecutors that have been tried before predominantly white juries in little towns like Winona, Mississippi.

Here’s Berman’s argument:

Does Boston bombing provide still more support for my federal-only death penalty perspective?

As long-time readers know, I like to describe myself a “death-penalty agnostic” concerning the theoretical and empirical arguments that traditionally surround the the criminal punishment of death.  But while I have long been uncertain about the “meta” arguments for and against capital punishment, as a matter of modern US policy and procedures I have a firm and distinctive view: given (1) persistent public/democratic support for death as a possible punishment for the “worst of the worst,” and given (2) persistent evidence that states struggle in lots of ways for lots of reasons with the fair and effective administration of capital punishment, I believe that (1+2=3) as a policy and practical matter we ought to consider and embrace an exclusively federal death penalty.

Regular readers have seen and surely remember various prior post in which I have talked through this idea a bit, and I have linked some of these posts below.  But, as the title of this post is meant to highlight, I think the soundness and wisdom of my distinctive view on the best modern way to administer capital punishment in the United States is now on full display in the wake of the Boston bombings.

Massachusetts, of course, does not have death as an available punishment.  And yet, I have already seen reports of many local and state officials (not to mention Massachusetts citizens) who now say they are open to (if not eager to) have the bombing suspect(s) prosecuted in federal court in part because federal law includes the possibility of the death penalty.  Moreover, there is every reason to view terror bombings like these, whether or not they have direct international connections and implications, as the kinds of crimes that ought to be investigated and prosecuted primarily by national authorities (assisted, of course, by state and local official and agents).

Stated in slightly different terms and with the events in Boston now making these ideas especially salient and timely, I believe that essentially by definition in our modern globally-wired and national-media-saturated American society (1) every potential “worst of the worst” murder is of national (and not just local) concern, and (2) every potential “worst of the worst” murder merits the potential involvement of federal investigators, and (3) federal authorities have constitutional and practical reasons for wanting or needing to be the primary “deciders” concerning the investigation and prosecution of every potential “worst of the worst” murder, and (4) state and local officials typically will welcome being able to “federalize” any potential “worst of the worst” murder, and thus (1+2+3+4=5) we should just make death a punishment only available at the federal level so that the feds know they can and should get involved if (and only when?) federal interests and/or the value of cooperative federalism are implicated by any potential “worst of the worst” murder.

In Memoriam: Lawrence Guyot

Lawrence Guyot

By Alan Bean

I first learned about Lawrence Guyot from reading Taylor Branch’s celebrated Trilogy on the King Years.  His name came up again when I researched the background of the Curtis Flowers story.  Readers of this blog will know that Guyot, Fannie Lou Hamer and several other civil rights activists were beaten within an inch of their lives by men under the command of Sheriff Earl Wayne Patridge at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Winona, Mississippi in June of 1963.  Three decades later, Mr. Flowers was arrested on the basis of fabricated evidence for the 1996 slaying of four people at a Winona furniture store.

A little over a year ago, I had the chance to meet the man in the flesh when he spoke at an event in Cleveland, MS sponsored by the Samuel Procter Oral History Program at the University of Florida.  The civil rights icon seemed more interested in telling the students what they needed to do in the present moment than he was in sharing tidbits of civil rights nostalgia.  This September, my wife Nancy and I shared our story with the Florida students.

This New York Times story captures the essence of Guyot’s amazing saga.  There was nothing unusual about the man.  He was not particularly eloquent or brilliant; he just refused to back down in the face of injustice.  Without Lawrence Guyot’s brand of anonymous courage, the civil rights movement could not have succeeded. (more…)

Friends of Justice brings it all back home

Robert E. Lee iconography in Jackson MS

By Alan Bean

This is Day 6 of our Friends of Justice Reunion Tour.  We started off in Houston, Texas at a vigil for Ramsey Muniz.  Nancy Bean opened and closed the event with prayer while I explained how, back in 1994, Ramsey Muniz was framed by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Then it was on to Church Point, Louisiana, where we visited with Ann and James Colomb, their children and grandchildren.  Six years ago, Nancy and I were in Lafayette when Ann and three of her sons were released from prison.  At their trial, thirty-one convicted drug dealers testified that they had sold millions of dollars to the Colomb family.  I had been arguing that this testimony was the product of perjury parties behind bars produced and directed by Brett Grayson, the ethically challenged Assistant US Attorney.  Three months after the Colombs were convicted, the truth finally emerged in all its sleazy glory and federal judge Tucker Melancon ordered that Ann and her sons be released immediately and that a full-scale investigation of the federal prison system be launched.  It was the Department of Justice that should have been investigated, but that would have landed a bit too close to home.

The next day we drove to Jackson, MS where we visited with attorneys associated with Curtis Flowers, the native of Winona, MS who has been tried six (6) times on the same murder charges.  The Office for Capital Defense is now located in the Robert E. Lee building in Jackson, an elegant art nouveau building constructed in the 1920s as an homage to the iconic Confederate general. (more…)

A crumbling cover-up: Mississippi prosecutor hides the truth about his star witness

Troubled prosecutor Doug Evans

By Alan Bean

If you want to understand just how flawed the case against Curtis Flowers is, consider the state’s failed conspiracy to conceal the sad truth about its star witness.

The defense attorneys representing Curtis Flowers have filed a supplemental motion for a new trial.  As previously reported on this blog, Patricia Sullivan, the state’s key witness against Mr. Flowers was convicted on eight counts of income tax fraud in early 2011 and sentenced to 36 months in federal prison.  But Ms. Sullivan was indicted on February 17, a full four months before Curtis Flowers was convicted in Winona, and therein lies the problem. (more…)

Unprecedented Flowers case highlighted by Reason Magazine

 

By Alan Bean

William Browning was a reporter for the Greenwood Commonwealth when Curtis Flowers went to trial for the fourth time.  Now, Curtis is the only capital defendant in US judicial history (so far as I can ascertain) to be tried six times for the same crime.  Browning realized the Flowers case was still in play when he stumbled upon Friends of Justice blogging from trial number six, and decided to pitch the story to Reason.  (Thanks to then-editor, Radley Balko (now with the Huffington Post) Reason became the first publication to do a story on the Colomb case in Church Point, LA, another case Friends of Justice brought to light.)

As Curtis Flowers sits in his death row cell on the Parchman Plantation waiting for the heat of summer to transform his cell into a sauna and for the Mississippi Supreme Court to consider his appeal, Browning’s piece appeared in the April issue of Reason.  Although he interviewed me for the article, the author didn’t give me a heads-up when it was published.  I got the word this afternoon when I called Lola Flowers–Curtis had mailed it to her.

Browning clearly has no polemical axe to grind.  He does a good job touching on the high points of an exceedingly complex legal history and ends with the sheer pathos of the story.  Four good people died in Winona in the summer of 1996.  I’m convinced that Curtis Flowers wasn’t the gunman; but somebody pulled the trigger, and dozens of lives will never be the same.  (You can find still more background on the story on the Friends of Justice site.)

Sextuple Jeopardy

The Groundhog Day of capital murder trials

from the April 2012 issue

In Mississippi early in the summer of 2010, emotionally spent jurors, some of them in tears, recommended that Curtis Giovanni Flowers be put to death for a quadruple murder. The judge agreed with the recommendation, sending Flowers to death row at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. The trial had lasted two weeks, and from beginning to end the Montgomery County Courthouse was filled with an unnerving sense of déjà vu.

That’s because the 41-year-old Flowers has now been sentenced to death four times for the same crime. The first three convictions were thrown out on appeal by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The fourth, handed down June 18, 2010, is currently on appeal at the state’s highest court. Two other trials ended with hung juries. All told, Flowers has stood trial six times—a record in the history of American capital murder cases. He has become the judicial system’s answer to Groundhog Day.

Prior to Flowers, the longest running capital murder case was that of Curtis Kyles, whom New Orleans prosecutors tried five times for a 1984 murder. Kyles’ second jury sentenced him to death, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that conviction because prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense. After four mistrials due to hung juries, the charges against Kyles were dismissed in 1998, and he was released from prison, having spent 14 years behind bars.

“There is something shocking about the state repeatedly trying a case until it gets a jury to follow its will,” says Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. Cases like these, he argues, are why the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says no person should “be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” (more…)

Innocent man finally exonerated

Richard Miles served 14 years in prison for the murder of one man and the attempted murder of another.

Miles’ guilt rested on the testimony of one eyewitness who claimed that he saw Miles shoot two men in a Texaco parking lot. Similar to the Curtis Flowers case, detectives pinpointed Miles and decided that he was guilty within a few hours of the shootings. Miles had an alibi and several individuals who corroborated his story, but that was irrelevant. 

Despite little evidence, Miles was found guilty and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

As of yesterday, however, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Richard Miles is officially exonerated.

Unlike most of the exonerations thus far, there was no DNA to test. After it was discovered that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense, Miles was released in 2009 (but not officially exonerated). In 2010, the original eyewitness recanted his testimony, claiming that prosecutors coerced him into identifying Miles as the perpetrator.

Miles is one of many men who have recently been exonerated in Dallas, TX. The stories of several of these men are told in the book “Tested: How Twelve Wrongfully Imprisoned Men Held Onto Hope” by Peyton and Dorothy Budd. MWN

Two Years After Wrongfully Convicted Richard Miles Was Released, He’s Officially Innocent

by Leslie Minora

Free for two years, Richard Miles has nevertheless waited and waited for today — the official acknowledgement that he did not commit the  murder and attempted murder at a Texaco near Bachman Lake in 1994 for which he was sent to prison. The detailed 52-page opinion handed down from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reads like the outline of a Hitchcock film, detailing two police reports that weren’t disclosed at the time of Miles’s conviction, a 2010 recantation from the only uninvolved eyewitness and the determination that the small amount of gunshot residue on Miles’ hand was inconclusive. All of which amounted to the decision that the wrong man spent 14 years behind bars.

“When we balance the newly available evidence … with other exculpatory evidence and the evidence of guilt presented at trial, we are satisfied that Applicant has shown by clear and convincing evidence that no rational jury would convict him in light of the new evidence,” reads the court’s opinion released today.

The Dallas County District Attorney’s office recommended Miles’s release in 2009 after they determined that flaws in his trial violated his constitutional rights. Since his release more than two years ago, he’s been working, piecing his life back together and finding support in other exonerees as he waited for a decision from the state court, which must rule on all exoneration cases. But finally, as of today Miles can file for state compensation for his years spent locked up.

“This is going to be great for him because now he can do some of the things he wanted to do” like help his mother, said Charles Chatman, an exoneree who was released in 2008. Chatman and the other exonerees, including Miles, meet monthly, and Chatman tells Unfair Park that he and the other guys have given Miles a helping had since his release.

“We have helped him,” Chatman says, quickly adding that Miles isn’t “the kind of person who just depends on nobody.” Miles has been getting by working at a hotel, Chatman said, but even finding a job was difficult without a declaration of “actual innocence.”  (more…)

New and Improved Curtis Flowers Page

By Alan Bean

Friends of Justice is pleased to announce that we have updated our Curtis Flowers page.  All the important stuff from the old page is still available, but thanks to the efforts of Lisa D’Souza, the new Friends of Justice Legal Director, the information is now much much accessible and user-friendly. 

The old page evolved over time, willy-nilly, and had come to resemble an overgrown garden in which it’s hard to find the veggies. 

The appeal filed following the 2010 trial in which Curtis was convicted and sentenced to death  is currently awaiting a response from the Mississippi Supreme Court.  The Court can’t proceed, we are told, because the prosecution has been slow to turn over important documentation.  In the meantime, Friends of Justice has been monitoring the case, visiting Mr. Flowers and his family, and insisting that a crude frame-job of an innocent man be replaced by  a real investigation into the tragic quadruple homicide in a Winona, MS furniture store in 1996.  

If you aren’t familiar with this case, our revised Curtis Flowers page will quickly bring you up to speed.  If you want to delve into the intricacies of the case, or if you’re curious about the social and historical context, you will find a wealth of valuable information.  So, if you’re looking for a quick intro or the whole nine yards, we’ve got what you need.