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In the Dark: S2 E2 The Route

If you haven't listened to the first episode of In the Dark, stop, go back and listen to it first and this will make a lot more sense. One other note, this episode contains a word that's offensive.

Last time on In the Dark.

Do you remember how you heard that Curtis had been arrested for the murders?

On the radio. I thought it was crazy.

Curtis Giovanni Flowers murdered those four people. There's no doubt in my mind.

Curtis Flowers was sentenced to death on four counts of capital murder. That conviction actually marked the sixth time Flowers have been tried and the case.

It's too long, way too long and Curtis Flowers is still in prison and they're still dragging it on.

I know Curtis didn't do it. I will go to my grave believing Curtis didn't do it.

If you try a man and you go six times for the same crime, well, something is wrong about the entire system.

On the west side of Winona in the middle of a neighborhood with lots of houses close together, there's what looks like an abandoned parking lot. It's nearly a block long, it's overgrown, the grass isn't mowed. It's the kind of place you might drive by and never give a second thought.

But if you slowed down and looked more closely, you'd notice a row of bricks poking out of the grass along the edge of the lot and a set of concrete steps that lead nowhere. If you got out of your car and walked onto the lot and headed all the way to the back, you'd find an old desk overturned in the grass. You'd see that someone had taken a silver marker and written the words 'Merry Christmas'. This abandoned lot used to be a school.

Back in the 1960s, it was an all-Black school and it was in a Black neighborhood. But in 1970, the Federal Government ordered the City of Winona to integrate its schools and White and Black students started to go to school here together.

But then four years later, on the night before Valentine's Day, after all the students and teachers had left, a fire broke out. The flames lit up the sky and people could smell the smoke for miles. Within hours, the entire block-long brick building had burned to the ground. Nearly everyone I talked to about the fire Black and White, told me they think it was arson and that it was related to integration.

Right next to the field where the school used to be, there's a small, white house with a porch on the side. This is the house where Curtis Flowers' parents live.

Hello.

Lola and Archie Flowers have been married for 54 years. Everything in their house is just so. The dining room table is set perfectly with cloth napkins. In the living room, there's a curved, tan velvet couch with fringe on the bottom and a matching ottoman.

Lola and Archi are both retired and although they have five other children and many grandchildren, they have devoted most of their time in the past 21 years to their son, Curtis. Curtis' parents talk on the phone with him almost every day. They regularly make the 80-minute drive each way to Parchman Prison.

Every two weeks, we go.

Okay.

We see him the first and third Tuesday of each month. We don't miss a beat.

Can you bring him anything?

Mm-mm. When you get through getting searched and everything every time you go, you might as well leave your cclothes off and go on over there.

Well, they really search you there.

Yeah. Scan you and everythnig.

From the beginning, Lola and Archie Flowers have believed their son is innocent and they spent a lot of money on Curtis' case.

How much do you think you spent?

Shit, like I cannot add it up. It was like a hundred and some thousand dollars.

Oh, my gosh.

I'm telling you.

How could you afford it?

I used to work three jobs a day. He was working double [inaudible]. And then after that, we went and borrowed some from the bank and everything to pay for the next lawyers and stuff. We had some money then, but we don't have it now.

Over the past 21 years and six trials, Curtis Flowers has had every archetype of lawyer: the father-son legal team, the high-profile Black nationalist attorney, the dedicated public defenders.

When I met his parents, Lola and Archie, last summer, Curtis' case had been taken on for free by a new team of lawyers from the Innocence Project in a high-powered East Coast law firm. Lola was feeling optimistic for the first time in a while. She was thinking ahead to the next family reunion.

So we having the next one on Labor Day weekend, so I hope Curtis is out by then. Maybe it is a Supreme Court will say something. That's what we're waiting on now, to see what they've got to say.

Do you let yourself think about that moment? Like do you think about what that would be like if he…?

Oh, yeah. I think about that all the time, you know, what a good time we're going to have and everything. A lot of family say, "When they let him out, we're all going to be there." I say, "Yeah, we're going to have a good time."

Curtis' father, Archie, didn't say much the first time I met him. He sat next to his wife and when she talked, he would just sigh or shake his head. I asked the Flowers if they had any photos of Curtis. They told me they only had one because in 1999, just before Curtis' second trial their house burned down. Lola and Archie were out of town in Memphis when it happened. Their daughter was sleeping over at their house with some of their grandkids.

My daughter was home and she said it sounded like something blowed up or something. There was a loud noise and when she would look, everything was burning. It just burned everywhere.

As for the cause of the fire, according to the report from the fire department, which I got a copy of, there was no final determination as to what caused it. But Lola told me that after the fire, someone told her that they'd heard something from a White person in town.

But somebody said they heard say, "If they let that nigger go, another house is going to burn.

And what do you think of that?

What do you think I think of it? That somebody probably set on fire.

Many years ago, around the time of the first trial, Curtis' friends and family tried to organize people in town to help Curtis. I went with our producer, Samara, to talk to some of the people who were involved in it. Pastor Jimmy Forrest and his wife, Rosie.

Hi. Are you Reverend Forrest?

Yeah, I am.

Pastor Forrest had had a stroke the previous year. So, Rosie did most of the talking.

But what we were trying to do was family-wide was try to see if we need to raise money, get lawyers, find him a lawyer. Do we need to… We were just going to talk about and find out what it is that we can do to help Curtis.

[inaudible]

Yeah. Just be there for him.

Rosie said her husband, Jimmy, took the lead back then on organizing a community meeting. Rosie told me that it felt like there was some momentum there, like they could really get something going. But then one day, before the meeting it happened, a woman came into the salon where Rosie worked, a Black woman whom Rosie refused to name. And this woman told Rosie that she'd been asked to deliver a message to her husband,, Jimmy from the White side of town. The message was brief.

He needs to relax. He needs to relax, cool off.

Who was the message from?

We don't know exactly, but we didn't want our house burned or anything to happen to our family.

And so, did you still have that meeting?

Did we do it? No.

No, we didn't. Everybody just disappeared. We had planned to get together and talk about it. Nobody said… But so, we just didn't do anything else. We backed off.

Because it sounded like it's a threat, right, that you received.

It was. It was. It was. It was a threat. If you had been here… Matter of fact, if I had, if I knew enough about the law system, or lawyers or whatever, I would have investigated that incident. I would have tried to follow that up, but I didn't know enough. We don't have… The bad part about it, you can't prove none of this stuff.

Had you heard of things like that happening in Winona before?

I have. And so, that's what put the fear.

This is season 2 In the Dark, an investigative podcast from APM Reports. I'm Madeleine Baran.

This season is about the case of Curtis Flowers, a Black man from a small town in Mississippi, who's spent the past 21 years fighting for his life and a White prosecutor, who spent that same time trying just as hard to execute him.

I was in Mississippi to find out what was going on in the case of Curtis Flowers to find out why the prosecutor, Doug Evans, had tried the case six times. I decided to start out my reporting by looking at the evidence that Doug Evans presented to the jurors in those six trials.

The way I saw it, the case against Curtis Flowers really came down to three main things: the route he said Curtis walked the morning of the murders, the gun he said Curtis used to murder the four people at the store and the confessions, he said, that Curtis made to his cellmates. The route, the gun, the confessions. I decided to start with the route.

I went with our producer, Natalie, to check it out for ourselves.

Okay, so we are standing in front of Curtis Flowers' house where he was living in 1996 and what we're about to do is walk the route that the State says Curtis walked that day.

And it's like 7 o'clock in the morning.

Yeah. So, it's about that time that he would have started out, according to the State.

Okay.

So, let's start walking.

To the right, basically.

According to Doug Evans, Curtis had walked everywhere that morning. He got up early on the morning of July 16th, left his house on the west side of town and started walking east. In the neighborhood where Curtis lived, the houses are small and close together. It's hilly, the yards are short and some houses are practically up on the street.

People are out in their yards, hanging out, waving to people as they drive by. According to Doug Evans, Curtis walked out of his neighborhood and he went east. He crossed over one of the town's biggest streets, Highway 51, and kept going. Curtis turned down a street that led to a small sewing factory.

We're coming up to Angellica Drive.

He walked up to the parking lot right outside the factory and stole a gun from the glove compartment of a car.

Then he's going to walk home.

Then, he walked all the way home, back to the west side of town, his neighbor.

We're crossing 51. Now we're back on Curtis' side of town.

Curtis was at his house for a few minutes. Then, he left again, this time, to go to Tardy Furniture. Tardy Furniture was all the way on the other side of town, on the side of town where Curtis just was. So, he headed back east to go to the store.

We're crossing another busy street.

He walked past bloack after block of houses and as he got closer to Tardy Furniture, he started to pass by businesses: an auto body shop, a dry cleaners. He arrived at Tardy Furniture, walked inside and killed all four people there. Then, he walked out the front door and headed west to go back home.

On the way, he stopped at a convenience store on Highway 51 to buy chips and a six pack of beer.

This is such a long walk.

It really is.

By the time Natalie and I were done, we'd walked for an hour and 36 minutes. The route the prosecutor, Doug Evans, said Curtis Flowers took was long. It was nearly four miles. And it's brazen. It would have taken Curtis all over the town of Winona that morning.

When Curtis Flowers talked to investigators on the day of the murders and later when he testified in court, Curtis said he never walked that route. In fact, he said he was never on the east side of town at all that morning. He'd spent the whole morning in his own neighborhood on the west side.

But the problem for Curtis Flowers was that the prosecutor, Doug Evans, had found witnesses, who placed Curtis at almost every point on that route. These route witnesses were one of the strongest parts of the State's case. Each of them raised their right hand and swore an oath and testified to seeing Curtis that day as he walked by.

Although none of the witnesses testified that they saw Curtis carrying a gun or saw any blood on him, their testimony was powerful. Most of these route witnesses knew Curtis. A lot of them had known Curtis their entire lives. Most of them were Black and had grown up in the same neighborhood as Curtis. When Doug Evans put them on the stand and asked them to describe who they saw that morning, these witnesses could not have been more clear. They would point to Curtis and be like. "It was Curtis. There he is. I've known him for years."

It was hard for Curtis' lawyers to break the spell of the route they tried cross examining each of the witnesses. But it didn't seem to do much. If anything, as the trials went on, the witnesses seemed to get even more certain and even more angry at the defense attorneys for doubting them. It was easy to see how a jury would be convinced by these route witnesses.

To the jurors, these witnesses came across as credible, as people doing the right thing. Doug Evans told them that what the witnesses said, all their individual stories, it all fit together. It made sense as one story, one route, a clear, convincing story about a man walking to commit murder.

But there was something I found odd about this route and about these witnesses. I managed to track down the original statements that the route witnesses gave to law enforcement. There were at least 12 witnesses, who'd given statements about seeing Curtis Flowers walking on the day of the murders. Most of them testified at trial.

The statements are pretty basic. "Did you see Curtis Flowers. Do you remember what he was wearing?" that kind of thing. But it's when the statements were given that stood out to me. The first statement from a route witness naming Curtis didn't come until a month after the murders.

Some statements weren't given until four, five or even nine months later. This seems strange to me because what the witnesses were describing seemed totally unremarkable. They were describing a man they knew, who lived in their neighborhood walking past them, a man who wasn't doing anything strange. He was just walking. That was it.

I couldn't see any reason why on the morning of the murders, anyone would have connected that to an execution-style quadruple murder in a different part of town. And if you didn't make that connection in your mind that day, how in the world would you be able to make it weeks or months later? And even if you did remember it, why would you wait so long to tell the cops? That's what I wanted to find out when I set out with our producer, Natalie, to find these witnesses last summer.

I wasn't sure what to expect. A lot of people in Winona told me that these witnesses, they don't talk about their testimony. They don't talk at all about the case. I couldn't find a record of any of the witnesses ever giving an actual interview to a reporter. And when we found one of our first witnesses and asked him about his testimony, we didn't exactly get off to a promising start.

That is confidential.

This guy's name is James Edward Kennedy, but everyone just calls him Bojack.

It is confidential. We are not supposed to talk about that.

Oh. How come?

We're not supposed to talk about it because other people have gotten the wrong impression about talking to people like you all. So, me, myself, I don't talk about it.

You don't?

Mm-mm. I'm not going to talk about that, period, becuase it's confidential and it caused confusion on both sides.

Bojack had talked to the district attorney's investigator, John Johnson, in September of 1996, two months after the murders. He said that he'd seen Curtis Flowers walking by his house, smoking a cigarette on the morning of July 16th 1996, near the factory where Curtis had supposedly stolen the gun.

Bojack had testified in five of Curtis Flowers' trials and over all of those trials, Bojack never wavered. He was absolutely certain he had seen Curtis that day. I ended up talking to Bojack for nearly four hours over two days. And eventually, he did tell me a story of what he'd seen on the day of the murders. It was more or less the same one he told in court five times about seeing Curtis that day. Bojack told me he was out on his porch at the time when he saw him.

Walking there.

Walking back?

Yeah.

And did you say anything to him?

Oh, yeah. "Hey, man. What are you doing down here this early in the morning?" and he mumbled something and he never stopped.

But it quickly became clear that Bojack is the kind of guy who says a lot of things, the kind of guy who just likes to tell stories.

There's a lot that I know.

For example, Bojack told me that ISIS was in Winona.

ISIS. ISIS were here.

Like here in Winona?

Here, in Winona.

And that one time the river in Winona suddenly switched directions and started flowing backwards.

And then the rivers backwards. They didn't put that in the paper.

And also, he told me that he worried that my microphone might be transmitting messages to the Russians.

If Russia can hack into the election don't you think they're going to hack into what you say?

Bojack wasn't saying any of these things with any real seriousness. It didn't seem at all as though he really thought my microphone was in communication with Vladimir Putin. He was just messing with me. Bojack was happy to tell me about all kinds of things, but the only thing he wouldn't talk about was how he had ended up giving a statement to law enforcement two months after the murders.

I am not at liberty to say.

I guess.

That is all i want to tell you, that I'm not at liberty to say.

I didn't think it would be like a big question, actually,.

That's it. I'm not going to say anything more. I mean, I'm looking at, in the back of my mind, it's telling me not to talk no more. It's telling me not to talk no more.

As the summer went on, Natalie and I kept talking to witnesses and slowly, we started to piece together just how these route witnesses came to be giving statements to investigators. It turned out it wasn't like they just picked up the phone and called the cops to report what they'd seen. In the Curtis Flowers case, it worked the other way.

Hi, How are you doing?

All right. I'm Mary. Do you all want me?

Oh, yeah.

I talked to a route witness, named Mary Jeanette Fleming, who told me that how she got involved in this 21-year-long death penalty case isn't entirely clear to her. She said that one day, about seven months after the murders, she was working her shift at McDonald's when in walked the Police Chief of Winona.

He came up to McDonald's and told me to come to the police station and I asked why we're going to do that, that it was something that happened to one of my kids and he never did tell me something anyway.

You were worried something was up with your kids, did you think?

He just said said he wanted to talk to me at the station that day, you know.

Mary Jeanette asked her boss if she could leave work right then in the middle of her shift, and he said Okay. And then she drove herself down to the Winona Police Station. She said she still didn't know what it was about. And then, she ended up in a room with an investigator.

So, when I got there, he brought it up about the Flower case.

And so, did they ask you, like did you see Curtis a day of the murders, or…?

Yes, ma'am. That's what he asked me.

Mary Jeanette said she told the investigator that she remembered seeing Curtis walking past her on the sidewalk on the morning of the murders, seven months earlier.

So, I just, you know, told him I had seen him that morning. I didn't want no police over there anyway.

Mary Jeanette Fleming has had to testify at every trial that Curtis Flowers has had for 21 years. She said that all of this has turned her family against her. She said her family believes Curtis is innocent and that they think she went to the police with a made-up story so that she could get the $30,000 reward that had been offered in the case.

My own folk was against me, telling me I was lying to get more of that stuff like that. I didn't want no damn pay.

Why do you think they didn't want him to tell that story?

Because they were friends to him. [inaudible] tell me he was a church man. Well, oh so what? Me too. You know, so, he didn't win the deal. No, he couldn't have killed that many people that one time. I didn't say he did do it. I said I'd seen him that morning headed in that direction. I told them I don't know what he went to.

So, your own family accused you of being a liar.

Yeah. My own. Definitely, I got so sick, I've still got that [star].

We found another witness, Danny Joe Lot, lying on a bench out in front of a Dollar General Store, his arms slung over his eyes to block out the afternoon sun.

Are you Danny Joe Lot?

Sure am.

Great.

Back in 1997, Danny Joe had given a detailed statement to the DA's investigator, John Johnson. It was about 10 months after the murders when he gave it. When I found Danny Joe, he'd clearly been drinking and by his own account, Danny Joe's memory was terrible. He told me that back in 1996, he would get drunk almost every day. He told me he was actually drinking a beer the morning some officers pulled up in May 1997, 10 months after the murders and told him to go with them down to the police station.

They got me.

Who got you?

I don't know. Them White men, one of them the police. I dont know.

And they told you to get in the car.

Yeah.

Were you scared? Like they just come by. You don't know where they are.

Hell, yeah, I was scare. I didn't know who they were. I just got in. I

Danny Joe Lot had been picked up a lot by the police over the years, but this time was different. This time he said they didn't put handcuffs on him and they let him ride in the front seat.

They said, "We ain't going to… We ain't putting no handcuffs on you." I said, "Okay." He said, "Get in the front seat." I got in the front. He said, "You ain't dead and now we've got to ask you a question about Curtis."

Danny Joe told me that once he got to the police station, he was put into a room with the same investigator who talked to many of the other witnesses, John Johnson, the investigator for the District Attorney's office. That's when he gave a statement about seeing Curtis.

I kept talking to witnesses and as I did, it became more and more suspicious, not of the witnesses but of the investigation. Some people seemed kind of freaked out. They spoke to me through the screen doors, or out of car windows.

I don't need to talk about it, okay, beucase I [inaudible].

I knocked on one woman's door and she wouldn't come out at all. All she would say was that if Curtis had another trial, she would refuse to testify.

I don't want to be nowhere invovled.

I went to see a really minor witness. She didn't even testify at trial because all she said was that she saw Curtis in his own neighborhood on the day of the murders. But when I went to see this woman, she told me she actually did not see Curtis that day.

No. No, I didn't see Curtis.

And then she closed the door on me. One day, I ended up talking to a man, whose wife was a witness, but she never testified at trial. When I stopped by, his wife was taking a nap. And at first, he was very friendly and invited me inside. But when I asked about his wife's statement about seeing Curtis, he said I should go.

You know [inaudible] to talk about that.

That his wife would not want him talking about that.

She's not going to talk to you about it. I know that [inaudible].

When I asked him why, he said that his wife had felt pressured to by law enforcement.

She was pressured to talk [inaudible].

That they'd asked about things she knew nothing about. He wouldn't explain what he meant. On the way out, he made this really cryptic remark. He said they wanted everything.

They wanted everything.

They wanted her to make some commitments that she couldn't make. And then he told me. I've said more than I probably should have. And the interview was over.

And then one day, I met a witness named Ed McChristian. That's after the break.

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Ed McChristian lives in a neat, one-story brick house. As I walked up, an air conditioner was blasting in the window.

Can we sit down for sec? Do you mind. It's just so hot.

Ed McChristian was wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt that became more and more soaked with sweat as we sat in lawn chairs on a little strip of concrete in front of his house. He held a little blue washcloth in his right hand and every minute or so, he would raise it to his head to wipe off the sweat that streamed down it. And then, he would neatly fold the blue washcloth and press it down on his jeans to dry it off.

I asked Ed McChristian all my usual questions. He told me how he saw Curtis Flowers walking by his house on the day of the murders. He told me he did not get in touch with law enforcement to tell them about this, that law enforcement got in touch with him, that he gave a statement to John Johnson at the police station. Ed McChristian had talked to John Johnson about a month after the murders. In court, Ed McChristian always testified that he was certain of what he saw, Curtis Flowers walking by his house on the morning of July 16th 1996.

He just passed, just like that. I never gave him a thought. I mean, you don't know nothing didn't happen, so I just looked up and seeing who he was and recognized him. That was it.

How certain are you that it was that morning that you saw Curtis.

I wasn't even really sure. They had more about it than I did.

I wasn't even really sure. They had more about it than I did. What did that mean? And then, Ed McChristian told me how it came to be that he gave such a detailed statement about seeing Curtis Flowers on July 16th 1996. He said that statement he gave, it didn't start with him. It started with John Johnson.

Ed McChristian told me Curtis Flowers did walk by his house at some point that summer, but he never remembered which day it was. They said that wasn't a problem because when he walked into that room at the police station, John Johnson already knew what day he'd seen Curtis, that he'd seen Curtis Flowers on July 16th 1996.

They had it down on a pad for me. So, all I had to do was go there and they asked me the question and I answered.

Ed McChristian said it's still not clear to him exactly how John Johnson knew this. He said Johnson told him that someone had turned him in, that someone had said that Ed McChristian had seen Curtis on July 16th. Johnson wouldn't say who this person was. The whole thing was kind of unsettling.

Somebody had told them I'd seen him, so I couldn't say I didn't see him.

So, Ed McChristian said, "Yes, I did see Curtis Flowers on July 16th 1996." He gave the statement and testified to it in six trials.

And so, if you hadn't been like called in there and they hadn't said like, "July 16th 1996," would you have even remembered that day?

No

Ed McChristian told me that every time another one of Curtis's trials came up and he found out he had to testify again, he didn't want to go, but he didn't think he had a choice. He told me he's not sure exactly what would happen to him if he straightup refused to testify, but that whatever it would be, it wouldn't be good, like he might have to pay a fine or could even be thrown in jail.

All they did they would tell me they would subpoena me every time.

So you didn't have a choice.

Mm-mm. Every time, I'd get a subpoena.

Did you ever say like, "I'm not doing this"?

You don't know how bad I wanted to. And I never did say it, but I sure wanted to. Don't do not good.

We had talked to almost all the witnesses on the route that the prosecutor, Doug Evans, said Curtis had walked on the morning of the murders. I had just two witnesses left and the story that these two witnesses told was critically important to the State's case against Curtis. Their names were Roy Harris and Clemmie Fleming.

They didn't talk to law enforcement until about nine months after the murders. Clemmie and Roy gave separate statements to John Johnson. But what they told him was more or less the same story. Clemmie and Roy said they were in a car together on the morning of the murders. Roy was driving, Clemmie was in the passenger seat. Clemmie had asked Roy to give her a ride to Tardy Furniture to pay her furniture bill.

Roy and Clemmie pulled up outside the store. It was right around the time of the murders, but Clemmie decided not to get out of the car because even though she had driven all the way down here, she later explained she wasn't feeling well because she was five months pregnant.

They left and as they drove around the corner and got about a block or two away from Tardy Furniture, they spotted a man up ahead, running across a field, running west, like he was running away from the direction of Downtown. Clemmie recognized him right away. It was her neighbor, Curtis Flowers.

She pointed him out to Roy, but Roy didn't know him. They didn't talk to Curtis. They couldn't remember what clothes he was wearing or what kind of shoes. They didn't describe seeing any blood on him or seeing a gun, but what they did see was bad enough; Curtis Flowers running west around the time of the murders, just a block or two from Tardy Furniture. Clemmie and Roy both testified in the first trial, but almost as soon as that first trial ended, the story of Clemmie and Roy began to fall apart.

Last summer, I went with our producer, Samara, to find Roy Harris. He lives in a little town about a half hour from Winona. Roy didn't have a listed phone number and we couldn't find anyone who had an address for him, so we just started stopping into gas stations and truck stops, asking if anyone knew him.

Do you happen to know where Roy Harris lives?

I have no idea.

Okay. All right.

Do you know where Roy Harris lives?

Who's that?

Roy Harris.

Roy Harris. I can't place him.

Okay. Do you happen to know where Roy Harris lives? No. Okay.

Finally, we stopped into a café and asked the ladies working the lunch buffet if they knew where to find him.

Actually, we're trying to meet with a man named Roy Harris, but we can't figure out where he lives.

Isn't that him?

Oh, is that him there?

The cashier pointed to an older man sitting at a table with a woman. They were eating lunch. It was Roy Harris and his girlfriend, Joanne Young.

I don't want to interrupt your lunch.

[inaudible] sit down [inaudible].

Nice to meet you. Hi.

Nice to meet you. My name is Joanne.

Hi. I'm Madeleine.

Joanne told us that talking with Roy wasn't going to be easy because Roy was almost entirely deaf. He lost most of his hearing when he was a teenager when a tractor ran over his head. He didn't know sign language. He didn't use a hearing aid. We made plans to meet up with them a few days later at Joanne's house.

Hi.

Come on in. Do you all want me to head up to Roy and find him?

Actually no. Not at all.

Joanne was wearing a long, flowing skirt and red lipstick. Roy was wearing a baseball cap a T-shirt and jeans. We sat down at Joanne's kitchen table and right away, Joanne took charge of the interview.

He can hear the words, but he can't make it out what it is.

So, he can hear that someone is talking.

Right, but what it is, he don't. He can read your lips. My lips, he can read me good.

Yeah. Yeah. That's why it's good to have you here.

I mean, really, Roy, she wants to ask you some questions.

I know. I know.

Thanks.

Roy Harris told me that the morning of the murders, he did see a man running across the street, a block or two from Tardy Furniture. But he also told me that when he saw that man, it was much earlier in the morning and that he was alone in the car. Clemmie wasn't with him. Roy said he didn't take Clemmie for a ride until later that morning after he'd seen the man and that when he was in the car with Clemmie, they didn't see anyone running.

But she didn't see nobody running. The only time I've seen somebody running is when I was by myself. She wasn't with me when I'd seen the fellow running. And when I took her, we didn't see nobody running.

Nine months or so after the murders, law enforcement told Roy Harris they wanted to talk to him. Roy didn't know how they'd found him. He figures that somehow, someone must have told someone about the man he'd seen running. Roy said he went down to the police station and just like so many of the other witnesses, he ended up in a room with John Johnson, the investigator for the District Attorney's office.

So, what did he say when you met?

What did did he say when you all met? When he took you to the police station, what did he say to you?

He showed me Curtis Flowers' picture, like a school picture.

Oh. And how many photos did they show you?

How many pictures did they show you?

One.

Just one.

Mr. Flowers' picture. He asked me was that the fellow I'd seen running and I told him no. I told him that wasn't the fellow.

Roy Harris said that John Johnson pushed him on this point. Wasn't it Curtis Flowers he saw and wasn't Roy in the car with Clemmie when they saw the man?

And so, he kept on and kept on and kept on. He tried to make me, you know, say you did, you know, she was with me. But I told him she wasn't.

So, he he kept questioning you?

Kept on, kept on, kept on. and I didn't want to agree with it.

But eventually, Roy said, he broke down and told John Johnson. "Fine. I saw Curtis Flowers with Clemmie on the morning of the murders." Roy said he did it because he wanted to get out of there. He just wanted it to be over.

I was sort of afraid of Johnson.

Why were you afraid of Johnson?

Afraid he'd go have somebody do something to me or something like that, you know, because he was trying to get me all messed up anyway. So…

Oh. Okay.

What did you think he might do?

What would you think he might do?

I don't know. Anything. Aint no telling what.

But you was afraid of him.

Yeah, because he knew what I couldn't hear good and he was trying to get me in trouble, you know, like you know, by saying the wrong thing, you know, and stuff like that, he'd get me locked up, you know.

But it sounds like you felt threatened.

Yeah, I did. I sure did.

I tried to talk to John Johnson about this, but he did not respond to my request for an interview. Roy testified in the first trial that he and Clemmie saw Curtis that day, but after that first trial, Roy Harris went to Curtis' lawyers and told them that the testimony he'd given was not true.

After Roy Harris recanted his testimony, the prosecutor, Doug Evans, had a problem. The story of Roy and Clemmie had been one of the strongest pieces of evidence about Curtis' route at the first trial. Now, that story was falling apart. If Clemmie also changed her story that would be even worse. If that happened., Doug Evans would no longer have a story of Curtis running away from downtown. All he would have would be some stories of Curtis walking around. And so, after Roy changed his story, Doug Evans' investigator, John Johnson, moved to lock down Clemmie's story.

And this thing's recording. Clemmie, for the sake of the record, my name is John Johnson. I also am [inaudible].

I managed to track down the video that John Johnson took of Clemmie Fleming after Roy had recanted.

Today's date is February the 8th, 1999. We're in the District Attorney's office in Winona, Mississippi and we've asked you to come in and make another statement to us concerning Curtis Flowers [inaudible].

Clemie looks young in the video. She's just 22 then. She's barely talking above a whisper. She's wearing white spandex-y shorts and a long-sleeved striped polo shirt. Her hair is straight and down to her ears. She's wearing silver earrings. She's in a room with John Johnson and another investigator. Both of the investigators are off camera Clemmie is sitting in a blue office chair and she keeps swiveling left and right.

[inaudible] where were you going and what were you trying to do that morning?

[inaudible].

John Johnson and the other investigator take Clemmie through a whole story.

All right, Clemmie, from that point on, when you first saw him, what was his actions? What was he doing?

He was running.

Okay. In which direction?

He was running like toward the [inaudible].

Toward or… Okay. In other words, it would have been away from Tardies.

Mm-hm. Yeah.

Okay.

Throughout the interview. John Johnson and the other investigator keep guiding Clemmie back to the statements she gave at trial. They keep reminding her of what she'd said in the past.

I think in your statement or testimony, you had [inaudible] he was running like somebody was after him.

Mm-hm.

Then John Johnson tells Clemmie why they wanted to make this recording.

Basically, what we want to know this morning, Clemmie, the day that you came in and made this statement, did I lead you to say anything?

No.

Was your statement free and voluntary?

Yes.

Did I offer you money or any reward or any gratitude at all if you would make the statement?

No.

And also, you know, I didn't guide you as to the facts of what you saw that morning?

No.

It goes on like this.

Were you truthful in your statement that day, Clemmie.

I wouldn't be lying like that. Mm-hm.

And you've been unfaithful in your testimony. Under oath, you've raised your hand and swore to tell the truth. Is that correct?

I wouldn't be lying.

And in fact, you told the truth then, did you not? I think that's all that we need, Clemmie. We just want to record the fact that, you know, you've the truth, that we hadn't guided you as to what to say, that your statement's free and voluntary and that, you know, you have not backed away from being a truthful witness.

Yeah.

And thank you very much. And that will conclude the statement.

I've talked to a lot of people who know Clemmie:, her friends, her family, and they all said that despite what Clemmie has told law enforcement and despite Clemmie's testimony in all six trials, they do not believe that she actually saw Curtis that day.

I talked to Clemmie's sister, Mary Ella, who told me that Clemmie couldn't have seen Curtis Flowers on the day of the murders because, she said, Clemmie was with her the whole day. She said she remembers it because that morning, she and Clemmie had planned to go down to Tardy Furniture together, so that Clemmie could pay her furniture bill. But while they were getting ready to leave, someone came by Mary Ella's house and told them that there had been a shooting at Tardy Furniture.

Mary Ella said she and Clemmie went to the crime scene together to check it out.

And when we get down there, they had it all taped off and I told Clemmie, I said, "I'm glad we didn't go down there because we probably would have been, you know, caught up in there," and she said, "Sure would have."

Mary Ella didn't find out that Clemmie had given a statement to law enforcement until the first trial. Mary Ella wasn't at the trial. It was being held in Tupelo, about 100 miles away but someone passed along word to Mary Ella that her sister, Clemmie, was up there on the stand, testifying under oath that she saw Curtis on the morning of the murders.

Mary Ella's first reaction was to race to the courthouse to tell the jurors exactly what she told me that Clemmie's story couldn't possibly be true. But by the time she got there, the trial was almost over and the defense decided not to try to call her as a last-minute witness. Mary Ella did end up testifying for Curtis' defense in the second trial.

And it was like they were using me and Clemmie against one another. It like Clemmie's word against mine and Clemmie won.

I went to talk to one of Clemmie's best friends from back then, her cousin, a woman named Latarsha Blissett. Latarsha and Clemmie still live just a block apart. Latarsha lives in a trailer with her husband. It's in the backyard behind her mother's house. Latarsha said she remains convinced that Clemmie made up the story and that she did it because she felt pressured by law enforcement and because she thought she might be able to get some money.

And Latarsha said the reason she thinks this is because of what happened to her. Back in 1996, Latarsha was 19 years old and she said she was at high school one day when the cops showed up and told her she needed to come with them.

I was scared, but it was the police, so I'm going to go. I know I aint did nothing wrong because I will never do nothing that gives me no trouble, but I don't know. I just went. I was just doing what a kid's got to do.

Latarsha said she was taken to a police station and put in a room with two investigators. She said one of them was John Johnson. She doesn't remember who the other person was. She said they asked her about Curtis Flowers, whether she'd ever dated him, whether she knew what kind of shoes he wore, whether she knew anything that would connect Curtis to the murders at Tardy Furniture. She told them no, no and no. But she said they also asked her this other kind of question.

They were asking me was I trying to buy a mobile home. They asked me if I knew what $30,000 dollars could buy. "If, you know, you're trying to get a mobile home do you know what, you know, this amount of money could buy?"

Well, every time they were asking me something, they always would ask me do I know what this certain amount of money could do. So, they didn't just say, "Well, hey, we'll give you blah-dy, blah-dy, you go buy that trailer, or we'll give you…" They didn't do that, but they ended everything with this money to let me know that it's on the table. So, I didn't pick up on that.

Latarsha said that although the investigators implied that she could get money, they never actually said that if she connected Curtis to the crime, she would get a reward. Latarsha said she didn't tell them anything because she didn't know anything, but when she found out that her cousin, Clemmie, had talked to law enforcement and that Clemmie had told them that she had seen Curtis that day, Latarsha did not believe Clemmie's story. Not at all.

It was time to go talk to Clemmie. Natalie and I went to see her late one afternoon. Clemmie is now 42. She still lives in her childhood home in Winona. It's a small, one-story house about a block from where Curtis grew up.

Hi.

Hi.

Clemmie opened the door. It was hot out. She was wearing red shorts and a T-shirt and she was holding a plastic bag of lettuce in one hand. She looked at me with suspicion. She didn't invite me inside. Our entire conversation took place with her in the doorway, sometimes sort of closing the door a little bit, then opening it a little bit, like she was going to end this conversation at any moment

I just want to know like what this has been like for you.

I don't like it. Everytime you look up, somebody's saying negative stuff and say I lied and why did I lie on him and I got him killed, I'm about to get him get killed and all kinds of negative stuff. And I don't like it.

Clemmie told me more or less the same story that she testified to in court about seeing Curtis running away from the Downtown on the morning of the murders, although some of the details had changed. Clemmie told me she never wanted to get involved in the investigation in the first place. She told me that she would have never come forward by herself and that the only reason she talked to investigators is because someone overheard her talking about it at work and turned her in.

Why didn't you want to tell anybody about it, do you think?

Becuase I didn't know was going to get this, you know, this [inaudible] and I had to go to court and, you know, and people criticize you, you know how they…

How important do you even think what it is that you have to say is?

I don't know. I ain't the only one testifying. Yeah, other people testified, so…

Yeah. Do you have a sense of who's the most important witness?

No.

Yeah.

Who is that?

I don't… I mean, I think you're placing him closest to the store, you know.

So. Uh-huh.

Yeah.

When I tried to ask Clemmie more questions about her testimony and what she saw, she got annoyed.

So, then, like what happened after that?

I don't know. I don't know. Did you even read it in the paper?

Well, like, I…

I know you all saying my statement [and still] because I don't testify when [inaudible] world with this stuff. [inaudible] I had it happen and I'm not going to let nobody criticize me. Back then, I let you do anything you ever said to me. I ain't going to do it no more. I ain't going to let nobody just walk up and shit and me. So, they just like I'm not going to let no body just criticize me. So, I won't… I just wish that I… This shouldn't have happened. I hate my [inaudible]. I don't like it and I just want to live a normal life. I don't care nothing about it. It had to happen.

I told Clemmie what I'd heard from her friends and family, how they thought her story about seeing Curtis wasn't true and how a lot of them figured that she'd been pressured by law enforcement into saying it. Clemmie said all those people had it wrong. She told me that her story is the truth, but she also told me that even if her story wasn't true, coming forward now and saying that probably wouldn't help Curtis' case anyway.

It ain't going to help nothing. If I did say it, it ain't going to help him nothing because you've got other people testifying saying they'd seen him. So, what will my testifying help?

I think a great deal.

So, what they want me to do? Tell a lie and say I didn't see him? I'd seen him and like I can't erase it make it go away. If it happened, it happened. That's the truth. So, now you know the truth.

What do you think you'll do if there's a seventh trial?

You know, I ain't going to be [inaudible] caring about this stuff. I just wish it will go away. And I ain't [inaudible]. I ain't going to go [inaudible].

You're not going to do it?

Mm-mm. I don't want to and ain't nobody going to force me. I just ain't going to do it.

Clemmie wouldn't tell me exactly why she would refuse to testify if she was called for another trial and she wouldn't answer any more questions.

I was at the end of the route. By the time I was done, I talked to every person who's still alive, who testified about seeing Curtis Flowers on the morning of the murders. And after having done all that, I thought back on how Doug Evans had presented these witnesses to the jurors, how he described them as reliable, credible, as people with excellent memories, people with no reason to lie.

I thought about how Doug Evans had emphasized how many witnesses there were and how their stories have seen Curtis all fit together. It was supposed to be damning evidence. And at trial, it certainly was. It helped lead jurors to convict Curtis and sentence him to death. When I look at it now, I agree with the prosecutor, Doug Evans, that all of these witnesses do add up to solid evidence, but not evidence that Curtis Flowers walked around town that morning.

Instead, when I look at all these witnesses, all of these people I'd spent so much time with, I see evidence of a different kind, evidence that law enforcement was willing to rely on testimony from people who couldn't plausibly remember what they saw in any kind of detaile, evidence that law enforcement was willing to pressure people and evidence that so many of these people were just plain scared. So, yes, these witnesses were evidence, but not the kind of evidence the jury had ever heard.

Coming up next time on In the Dark.

You don't want to walk in the grass near here.

Oh, no? What's there?

No. You've got all kinds of snakes in the grass.

Snakes?

Mm-hm.

There's a lot more information about these route witnesses and how some of their accounts contradict each other, how their testimony has changed over the six trials. It's way more than we could ever get into even five episodes of this podcast, but it's worth checking out. We have it all on our Web site, inthedarkpodcast.org.

In the Dark is reported and produced by me, Madeleine Baran, Senior Producer, Samara Freemark, Producer, Natalie Jalonski, Associate Producer, Rehman Tungekar and reporters, Parker Yesko and Will Craft. In the Dark is edited by Catherine Winter. Web editors are Dave Mann and Andy Kruse. The Editor in Chief of APM Reports. is Chris Worthington. Original music by Gary Meister and Johnny Vince Evans. This episode was mixed by Veronica Rodriguez and Corey Schreppel.

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