‘Don’t stop praying yet’: Family and friends of Curtis Flowers, Mississippi death row inmate, are jubilant about SCOTUS ruling but await what lies ahead

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Michelle Liu / Report for America

Curtis Flowers’s brother, Archie Flowers, Jr., on June 21, 2019. Flowers, Jr., said he learned of the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse his brother’s 2010 murder conviction while at work in Greenwood that morning.

WINONA — By noon, Archie Flowers was worn out, responding to yet another reporter’s knock on the door wearing a plain white T-shirt and no shoes.

He retired to a sofa in the living room, his phone resting on his sternum, perhaps awaiting another call from his son, Curtis. But still, he had enough energy to sing his feelings after Curtis won his appeal to the highest court in the United States that morning.

“You know what James Brown said?,” Archie Flowers asked, referencing the renowned musician.

“Whoa, I feel good,” he belted.

Now 49, Curtis Flowers has spent over two decades on death row fighting repeated convictions for the 1996 murders of four people at the Tardy Furniture Store in Winona. The same prosecutor, District Attorney Doug Evans, has tried him six times, most recently in 2010. Of the previous five trials, three were tossed out, two for prosecutorial misconduct on Evans’s part. Jurors could not reach unanimous verdicts in two of the other trials.

On June 21, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to throw out the 2010 conviction, citing that in the sixth trial, Evans, who is white, discriminated against potential black jurors, thus violating the U.S. Constitution.

Among many black residents of Winona, including friends and members of the Flowers family, the high court’s opinion affirmed a fact they already knew to be true — that Curtis was innocent.

News circulated through word of mouth and social media and even, in the case of a family friend known as Pop, the SCOTUSblog liveblog of Supreme Court decisions as they were released Friday morning, eliciting exclamations of surprise and joy, and embraces between friends.

Flowers’s brother, Archie Flowers Jr., said that throughout the day white and black residents had been congratulating him on the news, as Flowers’s nieces and nephews ran through the home of his sister, Priscilla.

“Don’t stop praying yet, ” Archie Flowers Jr., said, “until I can hug him like I used to.”

The case drew sustained national attention following the release of the investigative podcast In the Dark by APM Reports, which dove into the details of the case, examining the alleged murder weapon, obtaining a recantation from a key witness for the state, and tracking down other suspects in the law enforcement investigation. The podcast also traced Evans’s tenure as DA since 1992, finding that he struck potential black jurors at a rate 4.4 times that of white jurors over the course of 15 years.

Michelle Liu / Report for America

The location of the Tardy Furniture store in Winona, Mississippi, where four people, Bertha Tardy, Carmen Rigby, Robert Golden and Derrick Stewart, were killed in 1996. An antique store is now located in its place.

Flowers’s sister-in-law, Rochell Flowers, believes the heightened attention to Flowers’s case will help hold Evans accountable in the future, she said. This despite the fact that prosecutors across the country are rarely disciplined for acts of misconduct on the job.

At lunch on Friday, Evans told reporters with In the Dark that “there’s not question about [Curtis Flowers’s] guilt. There never has been.” His wife, Patsy, told the Sun Herald she was “pretty sure” Evans would not try the case a seventh time.

Charles W. Curry, a former classmate of Flowers’s, was in town when the murders occurred in 1996, but moved away three years later. He returned to Winona only a few years ago, but he thinks a seventh prosecution would only be a waste of taxpayer dollars: “You’re not my DA,” he said of Evans. “You’re not representing me.”

Not all were as outspoken as Curry. At a local restaurant in town, two women waited for their catfish plates as they talked through the news.

“I’m glad things have come to the light,” one of the women, Dorothy Woods, said. “I don’t know [what will happen next] but I’m hoping he’ll be a free man.”

“I think he’s doing somebody else’s time, whoever the real criminal is,” Woods’s lunch companion, who chose not to give her name, said.

The restaurant’s owner joined in. But he also was hesitant to use his own name or that of his establishment, citing the house fire of a local pastor just days after he spoke out about the case at the funeral of Flowers’s mother Lola, who died last July.

“Because we really live in an area where it looks to be normal but deep down inside on the flip side, it’s very far from it,” he said.

Michelle Liu / Report for America

Family and friends of Curtis Flowers gathered at the home of Flowers’s father, Archie Flowers, on Friday, June 21, 2019 after the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision to reverse Flowers’s conviction. Following a sixth trial in 2010, Flowers was found guilty by a jury of the 1996 murder of four people at the Tardy Furniture store in Winona.

In interviews, the Flowers children recalled their mother’s faith before her death that Curtis would see freedom. For the family, the coming days are a matter of waiting to see what the prosecution will do. They are meeting with Curtis’s attorneys on Monday to learn of next steps.

Priscilla Flowers said her brother has recently received an influx of letters from people invested in the case. As of Friday, he was also reaching out to the world from Parchman, making calls one by one to his lawyers and family members, she said.

Those who had spoken to him said he maintained a good spirit.