Curtis Flowers, 49, is an African-American man from Winona, Mississippi, who has been tried six times for the shooting deaths of four people in a Tardy furniture store in 1996. His case received national attention after it was covered in season two of the In The Dark podcast.
A little after 9:00 AM on July 16th, 1996, Tardy Furniture employee Sam Jones received a call from his boss asking him to go into work. When Sam arrived at work, he saw that all of the lights were on but the employees seemed to be missing. He soon discovered that all 4 employees had been shot in the back of the head, execution style, and somebody had stolen $300 from the register.
The crime had no witnesses and went unsolved for months until police charged Curtis Flowers with the murders. He had briefly worked at the store and been fired when he tried to transport a truck full of batteries and failed to secure the load when he drove off, smashing them all. District Attorney Doug Evans said Flowers was motivated by revenge.
Curtis Flowers was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 1997, 1999, and 2004 with each case being overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The higher courts found evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and racial discrimination during the juror selection process.
Specifically, they said District Attorney Doug Evans had repeatedly broken the rules. They ruled that he misstated the facts, asked improper questions not in good faith, and violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by striking most Black people off the jury.
He was tried again in 2007 and 2008 but both trials resulted in hung juries. Finally, he was tried and convicted in 2010 and once again sentenced to death. His 2010 conviction was appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States where it was overturned on Friday. The Supreme Court found that “the State’s relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals strongly suggests that the State wanted to try Flowers before a jury with as few black jurors as possible, and ideally before an all-white jury.”
The In The Dark podcast covered the case in extensive detail. The podcast’s popularity may have helped Flowers’ case get to the supreme court.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. His Friends Describe Him As “Laid Back”
According to his close friends who spoke to the In The Dark podcast, prior to the murder Flowers spent a majority of his time hanging out with his five siblings and his cousins and uncles. Their favorite activities included fishing or just cruising around town.
Friends say Curtis wasn’t a motivated or ambitious person. He didn’t have any plans for life and had a very laid back demeanor. “He was just always very laid back. You know, smiling, laughing, talking, cordial.” said his friend Michelle Milner, “I’ve never seen him, you know, be angry or upset.”
2. He’s a Talented Gospel Singer
Curtis was the lead singer in his Father’s traveling gospel group. They would travel to different local churches to perform.
It was his only hobby and Flowers became obsessed with it. He would talk about it constantly to anybody that would listen. “You know, it was a lot of attention for him and he liked it. He dated the first cousin of my best friend. She said that he was boring because he always just wanted to talk about singing. That’s all he wanted to talk about was singing.” Michelle Milner explained on the In The Dark podcast.
3. He Was Living with His Girlfriend and Her Son and Moved to Texas After the Murders
At the time of the murders, Flowers was living in Winona with his girlfriend and her kids in a house two blocks from his parents. He didn’t have a full-time job but worked part-time at Tardy Furniture. A few months after the murders, Curtis and his girlfriend moved to Plano, Texas to live with his sister. He worked at the local Kroger grocery store and would regularly make the seven-hour drive home to Winona to spend time with his parents.
4. He Graduated Last in His Class in High School
According to his friends and family, Flowers was not an ambitious or motivated person. He graduated last in his class in high school. He’s pictured in his high school yearbook wearing a suit and Black bowtie.
5. Some People Still Think He’s Guilty
Despite the trials being overturned multiple times, Randy Stewart, the father of victim Derrick “Bobo” Stewart, still thinks Flowers is guilty. “Curtis Giovanni Flowers murdered those four people. There’s no doubt in my mind. I don’t care how many choirs he sang or nothing. I believe in tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye. And I think he needs to fry in hell, where he’s going.”
The In The Dark podcast interviewed several jurors from his previous trials that said the evidence pointed to Flowers as the killer. The evidence showed that he was guilty.” said an unnamed juror. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he did it. It’s pretty cut and dry.”
Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented in the case. Thomas wrote that the case should have never been reviewed by the court and that “Any appearance that this Court gives closer scrutiny to cases with significant media attention will only exacerbate these problems and undermine the fairness of criminal trials,”