Man could face seventh trial in death penalty case after murder conviction repeatedly overturned

Matt Drake
Death row inmate Curtis Flowers is seen in this Mississippi Department of Corrections photo: REUTERS

A man who has been tried six times over a quadruple homicide is to appear in court for a bond hearing, and still faces the death penalty if he is put on trial for a seventh time.

Curtis Flowers, 49, from Mississippi was first accused of killing four shop workers in 1996 and has seen the prosecution's case fall apart six times - a record in modern US history, according to legal experts.

A judge was set to determine a bail amount for Mr Flowers at Montgomery County Circuit Court in Winona, the town where four employees of the Tardy Furniture store were shot dead in 1996.

Mr Flowers has had four convictions related to the case overturned, while two attempts to convict him ended in mistrials. He remains held under the same indictments that were handed down in 1997.

District Attorney Doug Evans has not said whether he intends to try him a seventh time, and lawyers for Mr Flowers were set to argue that Mississippi law requires bail after two capital murder mistrials.

One of the lawyers, Rob McDuff of the Mississippi Center for Justice said: “I’m not aware of any case where someone has been tried six times.”

During the sixth trial in 2010, Mr Flowers was sentenced to death but the US Supreme Court overturned that conviction in June after finding that prosecutors had shown an unconstitutional pattern of excluding African American jurors in the trials of Mr Flowers, who is black.

After the Supreme Court ruling, Mr Flowers was moved off death row at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman and taken to a regional jail in the central Mississippi town of Louisville. He remained in custody because he is under indictment.

The four people killed on July 16, 1996, were 59-year-old shop owner Bertha Tardy and three employees, Carmen Rigby, 45, Robert Golden, 42, and Derrick “Bobo” Stewart, 16.

Mr McDuff is asking Circuit Judge Joseph Loper to set a bail amount and allow Mr Flowers to be released from custody for the first time in 22 years.

If the judge agrees, it’s unclear how soon Mr Flowers could be released. The timing depends on several factors, including whether the money is readily available - at least 10 per cent of the bail amount must be paid.

The timing also depends on how much paperwork must be completed and whether Mr Flowers would have to return to the regional jail for that.

Mr Flowers’ lawyers were expected to argue at another hearing that the judge should dismiss the charges.

Winona sits near the crossroads of Interstate 55, the major north-south artery in Mississippi, and US Highway 82, which runs east to west. It is about half an hour’s drive from the flatlands of the Mississippi Delta.

Among its 4,300 residents, about 48 per cent are black and 44 per cent are white. Census Bureau figures show that about 30 per cent live in poverty.

In mid-November, four black voters and a branch of the NAACP filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to permanently order the district attorney, Mr Evans, and his assistants to stop using peremptory challenges to remove African American residents as potential jurors because of their race.

The lawsuit cites an analysis of jury strikes by Evans from 1992 to 2017 by American Public Media’s “In the Dark” podcast. It found Mr Evans’ office used peremptory strikes, which lawyers typically don’t have to explain, to remove 50 per cent of eligible black jurors, but only 11 per cent of eligible white jurors. The analysis was performed as part of a series of episodes questioning Mr Flowers’ conviction in his sixth trial.

Dan Dolan, deputy director of Reprieve, told The Independent: “After a year where yet more prisoners have been exonerated after spending decades on death row, it’s little wonder states from California to New Hampshire are ending capital punishment.

"Every time an innocent man is freed from death row, it chips away at support for the death penalty: Gallup polling recently showed Americans rejecting it in record numbers.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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