JACKSON, Miss. — A judge is ordering the state of Mississippi to pay $500,000 to a Black man who was wrongfully imprisoned more than 22 years and was tried six times in a quadruple murder case.
Curtis Flowers was released from prison in December 2019, months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a district attorney had excluded Black jurors from his trials. Flowers had spent years on death row.
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said in September that she would not try Flowers a seventh time in the 1996 slayings and a robbery that took place at a furniture store in Winona. He had been in custody since 1997.
In November, Flowers sued the state seeking compensation for wrongful imprisonment. Court papers show the attorney general’s office agreed to his request.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge George Mitchell on Tuesday ordered the state to pay Flowers $500,000. That is the maximum allowed under a 2009 state law, which says the state can pay $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, for a up to 10 years.
Mitchell also ordered the state to make a separate payment of $50,000 to Flowers’s attorneys.
Flowers was convicted four times: twice for individual slayings and twice for all four killings. Two other trials involving all four deaths ended in mistrials. Each of Flowers’s convictions was overturned.
In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out the conviction and death sentence from Flowers’s sixth trial, which took place in 2010. Justices said prosecutors’ pattern of excluding Black jurors from his trials was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court ruling came after American Public Media’s “In the Dark” investigated the case. The podcast recorded jailhouse informant Odell Hallmon in 2017 and 2018 recanting his testimony that Flowers had confessed to him.
The first six trials were prosecuted by the local district attorney. Flowers was still facing the 1997 indictments in December 2019 when a judge agreed to release him on bond. The district attorney handed the case to the attorney general, and her staff spent months reviewing it before deciding not to go forward because of a lack of credible witnesses.
The four people shot to death on July 16, 1996, in Tardy Furniture were store owner Bertha Tardy, 59; and three employees: Carmen Rigby, 45; Robert Golden, 42; and 16-year-old Derrick “Bobo” Stewart.
The NFL announced in December that players were wearing helmet decals to honour Flowers and other “victims of systemic racism, victims of police misconduct and social justice heroes.”
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.
Emily Wagster Pettus, The Associated Press