Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Racism Rampant In The South

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Thursday, March 21, 2019

Rampant racism continues in our United States, especially and particularly in the South.

Or, so it seems.

One would’ve hoped for “a more perfect union,” especially by now.

But, that’s progress, and “progress” is a dirty word to many – especially to Southerners – whose loathsome contempt of, and resistance to change is as ignobly infamous as their Lost Cause (of the Confederacy) following defeat in our nation’s Civil War.

Curtis Flowers was tried for the SAME crime SIX times in Mississippi. If that doesn’t violate the intent of the “Double Jeopardy” clause of the Constitution, I don’t know what does. (Image from Mississippi Department of Corrections.)

Synopsis: A Mississippi Death Row inmate was prosecuted SIX times for the SAME crime by a prosecutor with a history of racial bias in jury selection.

The case was SO egregious, that the sole, long-silent Southerner, and only Black SCOTUS Justice, Clarence Thomas, who has for many years maintained literal silence on the bench, asked a question – the last question he asked was THREE YEARS AGO.

NPR wrote that arguments before the SCOTUS Justices in this case were “more passionate and fact-filled than usual.” (SCOTUS case transcript linked above, and here: SCOTUS case Curtis Giovanni Flowers v Mississippi 17-9572)

The case the Justices heard Wednesday, 20 March 2019, involved the conduct of Montgomery County District Attorney Doug Evans, in the tiny town of Winona, Mississippi, and his relentless pursuit of a conviction of Curtis Flowers.

With a population well under 5000, Winona is practically a village, and of the modestly-sized tiny town, NPR wrote that it’s a place “where everybody knows everybody.”

Curtis Giovanni Flowers is a black man who had NO prior arrests or convictions before he was arrested and accused of a quadruple murder in the town.

After Flowers’ arrest, he was arraigned, tried, convicted and sentenced to death, and has been on Mississippi’s death row for 22 years.

Between 9AM & 10AM on Tuesday, July 16, 1996, a former employee of Tardy Furniture in Winona, Mississippi had been called by Bertha Tardy, the store’s owner, to come by to train new delivery personnel. Upon his arrival, he found four people — Robert Golden, 42; Carmen Rigby, 45; Bertha Tardy, 59; and Derrick “Bobo” Stewart, 16 – bloodied and either dead or dying in the store. All four had been shot in the head.

The cash register was found empty, and later, an undetermined amount of cash was discovered missing, but the safe – which was closed but unlocked – did not appear to have been disturbed.

Investigators recovered two bullets, two bullet fragments, and one live round along with five .380 caliber shell casings. Later, those bullets were determined to be of the same caliber as a gun that had been stolen out of a vehicle that morning, but could not be definitively matched to any specific weapon.

Three bloody footprints with a distinctive zig-zag pattern sole were found, and investigators sketched the pattern and ruled out the man who had found the bodies based on his shoe sole pattern. No other business owners or individuals had seen or heard anything suspicious that morning.

Investigators didn’t believe that robbery was a motive, and they quickly centered their case on Curtis Flowers, a former employee of the furniture store who had been fired 13 days before the murders.

Flowers also owed the store owner $30, and it was reported that his final paycheck had been withheld to pay for damage he had caused when he improperly loaded material into a truck that later fell and was damaged. It was reported that he didn’t come to work after the accident, and when he called to ask whether he still had a job, he was told that he was being let go.

The store owner also told him that most of his last paycheck would be used to cover the cost of the damage. Flowers stated that he did not have a problem with the store owner and there was no argument between him and the store owner regarding the damage or the money.

Flowers had moved to Texas in September, just two months after the murders, and was arrested several months after the killings. He was indicted on four counts of capital murder in March 1997.

Eye witnesses claimed to have seen Flowers near the front of the furniture store that morning. While none of the eye witnesses claim to have seen him do anything incriminating or suspicious, they were called to testify at his trial—and, eventually, all six of his trials. Along with the eye-witness testimony, all other information that investigators say link Flowers to the crime is circumstantial.

Flowers claimed that he spent the morning of July 16, 1996 at his home and sister’s house. Prosecutors believe that he left home at about 7AM, walked across town (about 20 minutes), stole the gun from his uncle’s unlocked car, walked across town again back to his house, waited for a while, and then walked across town a third time to the furniture store in time to commit the murders.

The bloody shoe prints in the store were matched to Fila brand Grant Hill model sneakers, size 10.5. Flowers wears size 10.5 shoes, and witnesses said that he was wearing Fila Grant Hill sneakers the morning of the murders. Flowers claims that he was wearing Nike shoes and different clothes that day than witnesses had reported.

Investigators said that there was gunshot residue on Flowers’ thumb, but Flowers claims he had been handling fireworks the night before and that they were the source of the incendiary powder on his hand.

At Flowers’ girlfriend’s home, $255 in cash was found hidden in a bed headboard, and investigators claimed it was some of the cash that had been stolen from the furniture store till. As no serial numbers or other identifying information could be linked, there was no direct evidence that it was the same money.

After Flowers was arrested, some of his cellmates said that he admitted that he had stolen the money and committed the murders. However, they later retracted their testimony, and Flowers denied ever admitting to the crime. In fact, all three jailhouse informants have since recanted their stories.

In this first trial, he was found guilty of Bertha Tardy’s murder and sentenced to death. Then, in December, 2000, the Mississippi State Supreme Court overturned his conviction, and ruled that evidence presented at court was prejudicial, including questions asked by the prosecutor and references he made to the other murders which were not admissible because Flowers was only being tried for Tardy’s murder.

THREE times the Mississippi State Supreme Court threw out his murder conviction because of prosecutorial misconduct.

The gravity of misconduct the Mississippi State Supreme Court found weren’t mere technicalities, and ranged from misleading (lying to) the jury about non-existent evidence (falsifying/making up evidence), to striking (removing) prospective jurors because of their skin color.

Flowers’ second trial was for the murder of Derrick Stewart, convened in March 1999, and was moved to Gulfport, MS (in another county), in an effort to find a fair jury. Flowers was again sentenced to death, and the Mississippi Supreme Court again overturned the verdict (in April 2003) based on improper evidence being admitted in the trial.

Flowers’ third trial ended in February 2004 with his conviction on all four murders, and he was again sentenced to death. And in 2007, for a third time, the Mississippi State Supreme Court overturned the verdict, that time because of racially motivated jury selection, and ruled that the prosecutor evaluated Blacks in the jury pool differently than Whites, and released potential Black jurors on grounds that he did not equally apply to White jurors and used peremptory jury strikes to throw out a disproportionate number of Black jurors. That process resulted in a jury that had 11 White members and 1 Black member in a city and county with a racial population that is about 50/50.

Flowers’ fourth trail was in 2007, and ended in a mistrial with a 7-5 split in favor of conviction.

The fifth trial, in 2008, had 9 White and 3 Black jurors and ended in a mistrial. One juror was opposed to conviction, and the trial was further tainted by allegations of juror perjury.

And in Flowers’ fourth and fifth trials, DA Evans ran out of strikes; at least two black jurors were seated; and the juries in both cases deadlocked.

But in the sixth trial, with ONLY ONE black juror, the jury finally convicted Flowers, and the Mississippi State Supreme Court upheld that conviction, and ruled that in that trial at that time, there was no racial discrimination in the jury selection.

The sixth trial began June 10, 2010, with 11 White jurors and 1 Black juror. Most of the potential Black jurors excused themselves because they were connected to Flowers or his family, or because they opposed the death penalty and the trial was a capital murder trial. After only 30 minutes of deliberation, the jury found Flowers guilty on all four counts of murder. They sentenced him to death after a 90-minute deliberation. The Mississippi State Supreme Court did not intervene in that verdict, and prosecutors thought Flowers’ conviction would stand.

Because he was never acquitted of the crime, double jeopardy laws don’t apply in Flowers’ case.

But most of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices didn’t seem inclined to believe or agree with the Mississippi State Supreme Court’s conclusion.

Perhaps it was in large part because the 2010 United States Census found that Winona had a 52.8% Black or African American, and 45.8% White population.

Supreme Court Justices Seem Incredulous At Repeated Racial Bias In Jury Selection

https://www.npr.org/705211168

Jackson, Mississippi’s daily newspaper The Clarion-Ledger, also has an excellent story on this case.
https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2019/03/18/curtis-flowers-supreme-court-hearing-winona-tardy-furniture-murders/3108204002/

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