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Curtis Giovanni FLOWERS





Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 4
Date of murder: July 16, 1996
Date of arrest: January 13, 1997 (in Texas)
Date of birth: 1970
Victim profile: Tardy Furniture store owner Bertha Tardy, 59; bookkeeper Carmen Rigby, 45; delivery worker Robert Golden, 42; and part-time employee Derrick Stewart, 16
Method of murder: Shooting (.380-caliber pistol)
Location: Winona, Montgomery County, Mississippi, USA
Status: Tried six times. Sentenced to death in his sixth trial jury in June 2010. Two earlier trials ended as mistrials; three trials ended as convictions that were later overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court

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 The Supreme Court of Mississippi

97-DP-01459-STC 2004-DP-00738-STC

Curtis Giovanni Flowers is an African-American man who has been tried six times in the state of Mississippi, United States for murder. On June 18, 2010, his sixth trial jury convicted him of the 1996 murders of an ex-employer and three workers. Two earlier trials ended as mistrials; three trials ended as convictions that were later overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court.


Flowers was accused of shooting the owner and three workers at Tardy, a Winona furniture store from which he had been recently fired, on July 16, 1996.

He was convicted and sentenced to death in Lee County in 1997 of the murder of the store owner, Bertha Tardy. Evidence submitted for the prosecution stated that bloody footprints found at the crime scene were a 10½, the size worn by Flowers, and that they were specifically Fila Grant Hill, which, according to witnesses, Flowers was wearing.

In addition, projectiles found at the crime scene were most likely from a .380 calibre weapon, matching a gun recently stolen from a relative of Flowers. Forensic evidence also showed that there were gunshot particles on Flowers' clothes. $287 was found missing from the till, and $255 was found at the home of Flowers' girlfriend, while according to two of Flowers' cell-mates, he admitted to them that he had stolen the money and committed the murders.

Flowers denied the murders, stating that he had not admitted any crimes to his cell-mates, that he was wearing Nike shoes, that the clothes he was wearing did not match the description given by witnesses, and that he had been handling fireworks the day before the murders.


In each trial except the fourth, the prosecution sought the death penalty.

The jury in the first trial, for the murder of store owner Bertha Tardy, found Flowers guilty. In overturning that verdict, the Mississippi Supreme Court held that evidence presented by the state was prejudicial because it went beyond that necessary to prove the murder of Tardy alone. In addition, the prosecutor was held to have asked questions 'not in good faith' and without basis in fact. Both reasons were sufficient to overturn the verdict, with Flowers remanded for re-trial. The court stated that 'what may be harmless error in a case with less at stake becomes reversible error when the penalty is death', and that Flowers' Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights had been violated in "the prosecutor repeatedly mentioning the other killings".

A second trial, for the murder of employee Derrick Stewart at the Tardy store, was moved to Harrison County due to the difficulties of getting a fair jury in Montgomery County, resulted in a sentence of death. This verdict was likewise overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court, which held that the court had improperly allowed evidence regarding crimes not on trial to be admitted, and that other errors were made.

A third trial, for all four murders, which concluded on 12 February 2004, again resulted in the death sentence. This was overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court as the state's peremptory challenges were held to be racially motivated. During the selection process, the state challenged African-American jurors with its first seven strikes, which resulted in a Batson challenge by the defense. Following its submission of non-racial grounds for its challenges, the state used its five remaining challenges to strike African-American jurors. The state also used its three alternate juror strikes on African-Americans. The final jury consisted of two African-Americans, but one of these excused himself as he was not impartial. (The county is 45% African-American.)

The state Supreme Court stated that there was disparate treatment of black compared with white jurors on issues such as the jurors' connections with the defendants and the jurors' willingness to use the death penalty. In addition, although the court held in many cases that the state had presented race-neutral reasons to strike, that the challenge process had become "an exercise in finding race neutral reasons to justify racially motivated strikes."

A fourth trial in 2007, in which the prosecution did not seek the death penalty, ended in a mistrial, with the jury split 7-5 in favor of conviction, along racial lines.

The fifth trial, conducted with 9 white and 3 black jurors, concluded in 2008 in a mistrial after the sole juror opposed to conviction, African-American James Bibbs, was accused by the trial judge of perjury for allegedly trying to taint the jury pool by suggesting to other jurors that evidence was planted. The case against Bibbs was dropped through lack of evidence. A second juror, an alternate, was also charged with perjury for lying during jury selection when she said she didn't know Flowers.

A jury for a sixth trial was convened in Winona, Mississippi on June 10, 2010, of eleven white jurors and one black juror. Although Montgomery County is half black, most black potential jurors excused themselves, for connections to Flowers and his family, or for opposition to the death penalty. The jury found Flowers guilty, following 30 minutes of deliberation, of four counts of capital murder. The jury will next decide whether to impose the death sentence or life in prison.


Flowers sentenced to death

June 21 2010

WINONA — Curtis Giovanni Flowers should die for killing four people in a furniture store in 1996, jurors said today.

After deliberating for about 90 minutes, jurors gave Flowers the death penalty for four counts of capital murder.

They had found him guilty Friday after 30 minutes of deliberation.

"If anyone deserves the death penalty, Flowers does," said prosecutor Doug Evans.

The defense unsuccessfully renewed its request for a mistrial.

The sentence comes after Flowers' sixth trial in the shooting deaths of Tardy Furniture store owner Bertha Tardy and three of her employees.

Killed were Tardy, 59; bookkeeper Carmen Rigby, 45; delivery worker Robert Golden, 42; and part-time employee Derrick Stewart, 16.

The state Supreme Court reversed three earlier convictions against Flowers, and two trials ended in mistrials.

"All I wanted was justice for my 16-year-old son," said Randy Stewart, father of victim Derrick Stewart.


Curtis Flowers Guilty At His Sixth Trial

By Emanuella Grinberg - CNN

June 18, 2010

The fatigue was palpable by the eighth day of Curtis Flowers’ sixth murder trial.

On the ninth day — Friday — Curtis, 40, 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 Montgomery County, Mississippi, for 13 years. Flowers was found guilty for counts of murder, said deputy court administrator Patrick Black.

“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 non-profit 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 are already hearing evidence that will help them decide whether Flowers 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 Flower’s 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.

The passage of time did not make it any easier for relatives of the victims — or, for that matter, the defendant — to sit through hours of tedious forensic testimony, illustrated by gruesome crime scene photos.

“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 have been 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 in1963 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.

“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."

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-55.

“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 easy-going guy who like his father, the manager of a popular convenience store, sang in a gospel choir.

They also believe that the circumstantial evidence is not strong enough for a conviction.
Such debate is presumably taking place outside the notice of the jury, which has been sequestered for the duration of the trial. Jurors have been instructed by the judge to limit their knowledge of the case to what they hear 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, both of which were never 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."



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