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    if i had just been told about this rather than reading it myself i would not beleive it

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    if i had just been told about this rather than reading it myself i would not beleive it

    Post by Guest on Sun Jun 13, 2010 2:40 pm

    Mississippi man faces sixth capital murder trial in 1996 shootings

    By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
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    Curtis Flowers, left, talks with defense attorney Andre de Gruy during his fifth trial in 2008. That trial ended with a hung jury.

    STORY HIGHLIGHTS


    • Curtis Flowers is accused of shooting and killing former employer, 3 others in 1996
    • Three convictions reversed due to prosecutorial misconduct, racial bias in jury selection
    • Two more trials ended in hung juries that split along racial lines
    • Montgomery County District Attorney says evidence is there to convict Flowers





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    (CNN) -- Curtis Flowers has stood before five juries in the past 13 years on capital murder charges, accused of killing four people in a Mississippi furniture store.
    Now, prosecutors are hoping his sixth trial will be the last.
    Flowers, 40, is believed to be the only person in recent U.S. history to be tried six times on the same capital murder charges.
    His trial began last week in Montgomery County Circuit Court in downtown Winona, just a few blocks from the furniture store where four people were shot to death nearly 14 years ago.
    Bertha Tardy, the owner of Tardy's Furniture, and three employees were shot execution-style in the head the morning of July 16, 1996, inside the store, court records say.
    The shootings rattled the sleepy central Mississippi town, with a population of about 5,500 that has declined in the 14 years since then. Like most of the businesses still operating in downtown Winona, Tardy's was a relic of another era, having opened its doors in the 1940s. Bertha Tardy and her husband were prominent members of the community, and nearly everyone in Winona could claim some connection to the victims.
    After months of interviews and a $30,000 reward for information, Flowers was arrested in January 1997 on four counts of capital murder. He has been in custody ever since.
    Flowers has been convicted three times and sentenced to death twice, but the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed those verdicts and ordered a new trial each time. His two most recent trials ended in hung juries, leading his supporters to question why the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office continues to seek a conviction.
    The prosecution's case is based largely on circumstantial evidence. There is no DNA, the alleged murder weapon has not been found and eyewitnesses who say they saw Flowers the day of the shooting have provided conflicting accounts.
    Still, Montgomery County District Attorney Doug Evans says it's a straightforward case of a disgruntled worker taking out his anger against his former employer.
    Others, who believe Flowers is innocent, say the case has turned into a crusade and suggest that race has played a major role in the prosecution and convictions of Flowers.
    "The fact they're trying this case for the sixth time suggests to me there's some racial motivation here, because there's no way in the world I can see a white guy accused of doing the same thing being tried six times to procure a conviction," said Jackson City Councilman Chokwe Lumumba, who represented Flowers in his second trial in 1999.
    Flowers' supporters say it is a classic example of a case built upon weak circumstantial evidence and shaky eyewitness testimony intended to blame an easy target: a poor black man.
    "What does it say about the prosecution that they have chosen to ignore two jury verdicts?" said Alan Bean, executive director of Friends of Justice, a nonprofit organization that monitors due process violations in the criminal justice system.
    "I really think the only way to save Winona from this nightmare is to force the Montgomery County district attorney to step aside and appoint the attorney general's office. If you did that, I am convinced you wouldn't see the prosecution of Curtis Flowers, because the evidence just isn't there."
    To Evans, though, Flowers' prosecution is about seeking justice for the victims and bringing closure to the community.
    "Any time that we feel there is evidence to prove a case, we're going to pursue it," said Evans, who tried the five previous cases and will lead the prosecution this time.
    Evans declined to elaborate on lessons learned from the previous trials or to say if his strategy will be different this time around, but he said the two hung juries did not affect his decision to try Flowers again.
    "Any case that's on the docket I want to try and dispose of it," he said.
    Evans and Flowers' current lawyer, Ray Carter, said they expected much of the evidence to be the same this go-round as it has been in previous trials.
    In all five trials, Sam Jones, an employee of Tardy's since it opened in 1942, testified that Bertha Tardy called him around 9 a.m. on July 16 about coming in to train two new employees. When Jones arrived at the store around 9:30 a.m., he discovered the bodies of Tardy, bookkeeper Carmen Rigby and Robert Golden lying near the counter in pools of blood. Nearby, Jones saw 16-year-old Derrick "Bobo" Stewart on the floor, blood pouring from his head with each labored breath. He died a week later.
    Prosecutors allege that Flowers, a former employee, stole a gun from his uncle's car and shot Tardy because she had fired him two weeks before the killings and docked his pay for damaging a pair of batteries. He allegedly shot the others to eliminate witnesses, and then took money from the cash register, which elevated the offense to capital murder and made him eligible for the death penalty.
    The .380-caliber pistol used in the shootings has not been found, but investigators matched bullets at the scene to shell casings from the gun owned by Flowers' uncle, which has also not been recovered. Another witness who came forward months after the shooting and said she saw Flowers "leaning" on his uncle's car around 7:15 a.m. the day of shootings. The same day, his uncle, Doyle Simpson, reported that a gun had been stolen from his car.
    A neighbor said she saw Flowers around 7:30 a.m. outside his home wearing Fila sneakers. Another witness testified that he saw two men standing across the street from Tardy's around 10 a.m., and that one of them was Flowers. Another woman said she saw Flowers running out of the store the morning of the shootings while she was driving toward the store with a friend.
    A trace analyst expert determined that a bloody footprint at the scene came from a size 10.5 Grant Hill Fila sneaker; investigators found a shoebox for a 10.5 Grant Hill Fila at the home where Flowers lived with his girlfriend, but found no sneakers.
    The three different teams of lawyers to represent Flowers have argued that witnesses who said they saw him that morning came forward with shaky stories months after the shootings, enticed by a $30,000 reward. They also said prosecutors failed to conclusively link Flowers to the weapon or the crime scene through the bloody footprint, and questioned whether the evidence proved that money was taken from the cash register.
    "The reward offer really poisoned the case by giving rise to fabricated eyewitness testimony," said defense lawyer Lumumba. "I don't think the witnesses recognized the consequences of what they were doing, that they were going to help put this man to death."
    In Flowers' second through fifth trials, the defense called witnesses to dispute eyewitness accounts of the woman who said she saw Flowers running out of the store.
    Prosecutors at first attempted to try Flowers separately for each murder, but the first two convictions were reversed after the Mississippi Supreme Court found that evidence of the other deaths was improperly introduced. The court found that prosecutors used excessive displays of crime scene photos and testimony regarding the nature of the other deaths.
    "By using this tactic or trial strategy, the state improperly prejudiced the jury and denied Flowers his fundamental right to a fair trial," the justices wrote in two nearly identical opinions issued in 2000 and 2003.
    The third trial in 2004 also ended in a conviction that was later reversed after the state Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors dismissed black jurors based on race, fueling allegations of racial bias against the district attorney's office.
    In the case of one black female whom the prosecution voted to dismiss because of her attitude toward the death penalty, the court noted that her views "were nearly indistinguishable from those of two white jurors who ultimately served on the jury, suggesting disparate treatment."
    The next two trials -- Flowers 4 and 5, as they are called by the lawyers who tried them -- ended in hung juries after the panelists failed to reach a unanimous decision. The first jury was split along racial lines, with five black jurors voting to acquit and seven white jurors choosing to convict. The lone black juror on the panel in the fifth trial, who voted to acquit Flowers, was charged with perjury, but the charges were ultimately dismissed.
    Flowers' supporters say the first three convictions and the racial divides in the last two trials can be attributed to the racist attitudes that still prevail in Mississippi, especially when a low-income black person is accused of killing a prominent white member of the community. Tardy and two of the other victims were white; the fourth victim was black.
    "I'm not accusing white jurors of overt racial prejudice -- maybe some racial insensitivity -- but I think the real problem is they don't have enough social knowledge to evaluate the credibility of testimony and I think black jurors do, and that's what disturbs me about this tendency to eliminate black jurors and to disregard the black jurors' verdicts," said Bean.
    There will be a few differences in the sixth trial. Among them, the absence of two jailhouse informants from Flowers 1, who testified that the defendant admitted to the shootings. The two later admitted to lying under promises of monetary reward from law enforcement, according to Lumumba.
    Another difference involves the testimony of Charles "Porky" Collins, the man who said he saw Flowers across the street from the store around 10 a.m. with another man. It will be read to the jury, because Collins is dead.
    Bean, who plans to observe the trial, said he is especially looking forward to the jury selection phase, in which prospective jurors are questioned on their beliefs.

    "The racial dynamics are right there on the surface. There's no pretense of equal justice, so I'm hoping this story can be instructive in that regard, whatever the outcome may be."
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    tapu

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    Re: if i had just been told about this rather than reading it myself i would not beleive it

    Post by tapu on Sun Jun 13, 2010 3:34 pm

    It's his... career. Damn, your whole life being that... if you didn't do it. That would be f'd.

    (Hope nothing in the article contradicts what I just said. Happily posting for years without actually reading the OP. That's me.)

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    Re: if i had just been told about this rather than reading it myself i would not beleive it

    Post by Guest on Sun Jun 13, 2010 3:43 pm

    The system is failing one way or the other. If he is guilty then they just cannot convict him. If he did not do it then they are holding an innocent man for an absurd amount of time. There is just no good news about that case.

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    Re: if i had just been told about this rather than reading it myself i would not beleive it

    Post by Guest on Sat Jun 19, 2010 12:21 pm

    One crime, six trials and a 30-minute guilty verdict

    By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
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    STORY HIGHLIGHTS


    • Jury finds Curtis Flowers guilty in his sixth murder trial in Winona, Mississippi
    • Relatives of victims say they have grown weary of the case after six trials
    • Three convictions have been overturned; two trials have ended in hung juries
    • Flowers was found guilty Friday of killing four people at a furniture store in 1996



    Winona, Mississippi (CNN) -- The fatigue was palpable by the eighth day of Curtis Flowers' sixth murder trial.
    On the ninth day -- Friday -- Flowers 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 Mississippi for 13 years.
    "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 nonprofit 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 heard evidence to help them decide whether Flowers, 40, 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 Flowers' 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.

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    Prosecution's case: A path to murder

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    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 were 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.All the problems that have been leading to wrongful convictions are involved in this case.
    --Alan Bean, Friends of Justice




    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 in 1963 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.I would feel just as equally toward a white man as I do toward Curtis Flowers.
    --Brian Rigby, victim's son




    "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."There's people in this town to this day who act like I haven't lost anything.
    --Willie Geroge Golden, victim's brother






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    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 52.
    "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 easygoing guy who like his father, the manager of a popular convenience store, sang in a gospel choir.
    They also believe that the circumstantial evidence was not strong enough for a conviction.
    Such debate presumably took place outside the notice of the jury, which was sequestered for the duration of the trial. Jurors were instructed by the judge to limit their knowledge of the case to what they heard 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, neither of which was ever 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."

    Journalist Craig Johnson contributed to this story.

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    Re: if i had just been told about this rather than reading it myself i would not beleive it

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