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In the Dark: S2 E1 July 16, 1996

So, this is the tunnel.

Should we go through?

Sure.

It's kind of slippery. Don't fall.

You can walk right through.

It's been that way since I was a kid.

Wow. It goes straight through.

Long before I ever went into that tunnel, before Iā€™d ever even heard of the town where the tunnel was, I heard about a man named Curtis Flowers. Curtis was from a small town in Mississippi called Winona, but he now lives in a one-man cell in Parchman Prison.

Back in 1997, he was convicted and sentenced to death for an awful crime, maybe the worst in the town's history, the murder of four people in a local furniture store. But what got my attention about Curtis Flowers was something else.

It was the fact that Curtis had been tried not once, not twice, but six times for the same crime. Six trials over 21 years. All along Curtis Flowers has maintained his innocence. Curtis kept appealing his convictions. He kept winning and he kept getting tried again all by the same prosecutor.

Trying someone six times is incredibly unusual. It almost never happens, but it happened here.

This is season 2 of In the Dark, an investigative podcast from a APM Reports. I'm Madeline Baran. This season is about the case of Curtis Flowers, a Black man from a small town in Mississippi, who has 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.

If you try a man and go six for the same crime, well, something is wrong about the Constitution, or something is wrong about the law, or something is wrong about the prosecution, or something is wrong about the defense, or something is wrong about the entire system.

For the past year, I've been working with a team of journalists looking into what happened in the case of Curtis Flowers.

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

We talked to hundreds of people, who live in this part of Mississippi. And it's clear that the way people think about the Curtis Flowers case, for the most part, depends on whether they're White or Black.

You know, when everyone basically knows the guy is guilty, how much more evidence do you need?

They got the wrong person. That's what I feel.

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

We've tracked down witnesses, lawyers, law enforcement, people who have never been talked to before. A lot of people have told us things about the case of Curtis Flowers that they've never told anyone else. It's been a long year and I want to tell you about it

This story starts on a Tuesday morning, July 16th, 1996, in a Northern Mississippi town called Winona. That morning, a little after 9:00 a.m., a man named Sam Jones got a call from his boss asking if he could come into work.

Sam Jones was 76, but he still worked part time at one of Winona's oldest businesses, a family-run store called Tardy Furniture. Tardy Furniture was right downtown on Front Street. It was a red brick building with big glass display windows at the end of a row of old fashioned storefronts.

For the people of Winona back then, Tardy Furniture signaled respectability. It was the kind of place where you'd go to buy a nice dining room set or a sofa, where the sales clerk would help you match your rug to your lamps. More than one person in town described Tardy Furniture to me as a good Christian store.

When Sam Jones walked into Tardy Furniture the lights were on but he didn't see anyone. "Maybe," he thought, "they're playing a joke on me."

He kept walking further into the store and that's when he heard something. It sounded like someone was struggling to breathe. He looked down and he saw his co-workers, all four of them on the ground. They'd all been shot in the head.

Winona had only a few thousand people back then and that morning, hundreds of them made their way to front street. People started showing up almost as soon as the police got there. The mayor came by. So did reporters. Even the town's dog catcher showed up to see if he could lend a hand.

With shock and disbelief, onlookers stare at Tardy Furniture company, the site of Winona's quadruple shooting.

Some people walked right up onto the sidewalk and tried to peer through the store's windows. Butpolice shooed them away and the crowd gathered up on the train tracks up on a hill on the other side of the street to look down at the scene.

Friends and relatives identified the dead as Tardy Furniture's four…

Everyone knew the people who died at Tardy Furniture that day. There was the store's owner, a White woman named Bertha Tardy, who'd worked there for decades.

Locals describe Tardy as a person who was well known and we'll liked here. They say she was very active in her community and her church. For those reasons, many here are having a hard time believing her family business has become the site of such a gruesome crime.

There was Carmen Rigby, a White woman, who was married with two grown children. She was Tardy's bookkeeper and sales clerk. There was Robert Golden, a married Black man, who also had two children and who had just been hired to work as the store's delivery man.

A friend told us it was Goldman's first day on the job.

And there was a 16 year old White teenager, named Bobo Stewart. He was the only victim who'd survived the shooting.

The fourth victim, Derrick "Bobo" Stewart was taken to University Medical Center in very critical condition. Like the others, the teenage All-Star baseball player was shot in the back of the head, execution style.

Bobo's father, Randy Stewart, was at work that morning.

I was sitting on a bucket at Superior Asphalt repairing a conveyor belt to stack gravel with and a lady pulled up in a white Nissan car said, "Mr. Stewart, get in with me." I said, "Ma'am, I'm in a relationship. I'm not getting in that car with you." She said, "Do you have a son named Bobo?" I said, "Yes, ma'am, I do. Why?" She said he's been shot.

I went and told my supervisor. I said, Jerry, I'm going to the hospital. Bobo has been shot.".

Did you know how bad?

No, not 'till I walked in the emergency room. I reckon the lead surgeon or doctor or whatever told me. He said, "Mr. Stewart," he said, "if you're close to God," he said, "you need to go talk to him." I still see Bobo laying in the hospital when [inaudible] walked in the emergency room.

His head was swelled up like a basketball. And that's something I live with every night, every day, just seeing my child laying there like that. It still hurts to this day.

After Bobo was shot, Randy got a room at the Red Roof Inn near the hospital. Bobo's friends wanted to be there too. So, all of them, Randy, his girlfriend at the time and Bobo's friends piled into one room together.

It was like eight of us. That's what we did.

Were you sleeping much.

No. Mainly I'd go down and just lay down and rest, take a shower and go back and…

Was he able to talk at all?

No, ma'am. No, ma'am. He was on life support. And it was a little conflict between me and my ex-wife, but she finally agreed to go ahead and unplug it. The only brain function he had going was his stem cell and that was all. Had he lived and be on his own, he would have been a vegetable, but had he lived, we would have took care of him.

And how long did Bobo live for?

Six days and seven nights. [inaudible].

So a lot to talk about.

Oh, yes. Twenty-one years later. It's like it was yesterday. Nobody, nobody should have to bury their child.

The quadruple murder at Tardy Furniture was one of the biggest crimes in Mississippi in a long time and nearly every level of law enforcement got involved, the local police, the county sheriff, state investigators.

And it was a strange crime. It wasn't at all obvious why anyone would want to kill four people in a small-town furniture store. All four people had been shot in the head and nowhere else. There didn't appear to have been any missed shots. The victims weren't tied up and they didn't appear to have been lined up before they were shot.

Three of the victims were found within a few feet of each other. One of the victims was a few feet further away. Nothing in the store seemed to have been disturbed. There were no signs of a struggle. No one had witnessed the murders. No one had heard the gunshots. No one had come forward to confess. The case was a mystery.

Weeks passed with no arrests. People in the area came together to raise $30,000 for a reward. The newspaper ran stories about the reward on the front page. Still nothing. Most people in town had no idea what was going on with the investigation. There were very few updates.

People started calling City Hall to complain and after a few months, the case was no longer just a mystery. It was a political problem, for one man in particular, the top prosecutor in the district, a man who would go on to spend the rest of his career on this case, District Attorney Doug Evans

At the time of the murders, Doug Evans was 43 years old. He'd been elected District Attorney five years earlier on a promise to let no crime go unpunished. I found some of Doug Evans' old newspaper campaign ads from back then. Evans has a dark mustache and dark hair. One of his ads quotes a group of lawyers calling evans, quote, a fine Christian man with unquestioned integrity.

Evans' ads promised that if voters elected him, he would make sure that every single case was investigated and that victims and their families would be treated with respect.

Evans needed the Tardy Furniture case solved. So, he assigned one of his investigators to work on it, a man named John Johnson. Johnson started meeting with the families of the victims. But Randy Stewart, Bobo Stewart's dad, said that meeting with Johnson only made him feel worse, that there wasn't much Johnson would tell him about the investigation.

He said he almost came to blows with Johnson more than once, like one time when Johnson came by to see him.

He had a yellow notepad in his lap and I took my finger and I hit Bobo's name about six times. I forcibly hitting that notepad. "John Johnson, all I want is a conviction for that child, right there.".

And John Johnson say?

He told me I needed to calm down.

Bobo was the great love of Randy Stewart's life. There was no one Randy was closer to than his son, Bobo.

I mean, he had the personality of an angel, probably the most lovable human being you'd ever meet in your life. Sixteen years old, 6'1", 195lb and a 92 mile and hour fastball. Super kid.

Randy told me that he and Bobo were more like best friends than father and son. Back then, Randy's marriage had broken up andRandy and Bobo were living in an apartment together.

Randy said he used to own a bar and Bobo would be there with him almost every night. And the two of them had a tradition at the bar back then. Every night at closing time, Bobo would take 50 cents out of the register and put it in the jukebox to play their favorite song.

That was mine and Bobo's song. "My sweet child of mine, crank it up."

When that song would come on 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, everybody started easing out the door.

Randy sighed, he can still picture Bobo, standing next to the pool table at the bar like it was yesterday.

A pool stick, he'd run you off the table with it. Now, I've seen Bobo come out there on Sunday morning and counting out a little over $1,300 he had in his pocket shooting pool, $100 a game.

Wow.

So, yeah, he was a hustler. I know that's not right, but everybody in that bar loved that child.

The idea that someone would kill Bobo and get away with it because law enforcement couldn't solve the crime, that was more than Randy Stewart could take.

Six months passed, then one day in January 1997, John Johnson came to see Randy again. This time, Johnson finally had some news.Llaw enforcement had solved the crime. They knew who killed Randy's son and the three other people at the store. The killer was a Black man from Winona, a man who used to work at Tardy Furniture and was now living in Texas.

And he said, "I'm going to Plano, Texas, and get him." And I hugged his neck and I said, "Bring his ass back down. Go get him. Let's convict him."

His name was Curtis Flowers.

We'll be right back after the break.

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

On the radio.

What do you think?

I thought it was crazy.

This is a man named Kittery Jones. He's good friends with Curtis Flowers. He's also Curtis's cousin. I talked to him with our producer, Samara. Kittery actually saw Curtis the morning of the murders back in July of 1996.

When he heard about the killings around 11 or 12 o'clock that day, he rushed over to Curtis' place to check on him because he knew Curtis had worked down at Tardy Furniture and he worried that Curtis had been killed. Kittery was relieved when Curtis opened the door. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

I think he had a piece of chicken or something in his hand. I asked him, "Listen, man, did you hear about what went on down there at Tardy's?" and he said, yeah, he'd heard about it. And I asked him had he been down and he said no. I told him, I said, "Man, I thought you were still working down there," and he said, "No."

And what was he, what did he seem like? Like, did he seem nervous or…?

No, he weren't nervous at all. He was just the typical Curtis.

Typical Curtis. Usually in a story like this, you hear from the person in prison, but that's not going to happen in this story. You're not going to hear from Curtis Flowers because the Mississippi Department of Corrections won't allow it, even though the Department's own policy is to allow for, quote, reasonable access between inmates and reporters.

I tried to talk to Curtis for months. We even got a lawyer involved but the D.O.C. wouldn't budge. They wouldn't even let me talk to Curtis on the phone. I did write letters to Curtis, which I know from talking to his parents that he received. And Curtis' his parents told me that he was grateful that a reporter was looking into his case.

But Curtis' lawyers told him not to write back to me because they don't want Curtis writing letters to reporters while the case is on appeal.

Over the past year, I spent a lot of time talking to everyone I could find who knew Curtis Flowers, trying to get a picture of who he was, not just his friends, but his old schoolteacher, his ex-girlfriend from high school, his friends' friends, even the people who would later testify against him at trial and they all describe Curtis the same way, like how his childhood friend, Michelle Milner, put it.

He was just always very laid back. You know, smiling, laughing, talking, cordial. I've never seen him, you know, be an'gry or upset.

In the summer of 1996, the summer of the murders at Tardy Furniture, Curtis Flowers was 26 years old. Curtis didn't have a criminal record. He was living in Winona with his girlfriend and her kids in a house two blocks from his parents. He didn't have a steady job, but he did work for a few days at Tardy Furniture in late-June and early-July

He spent most of his time hanging out with his family, his five siblings and his cousins and uncles. They would go fishing or just drive around. Curtis didn't have big plans for his life. He'd graduated last in his class from high school.

In his high school yearbook photo, he's wearing a suit and Black bowtie. He has a round face and a wide smile. If Curtis was known for anything at all, it was for being a singer in his father's Gospel group.

He joined this gospel group with his dad and he was going to different churches and then they would sing.

I have a video of Curtis performing with a group back then. Curtis sings the lead. He's wearing a gray suit and tie. He's smiling nodding his head a bit to the music.

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.

In the fall of 1996, a few months after the murders, Curtis and his girlfriend moved to Texas to live with his sister. He found a job at a Kroger grocery store. And every few weeks, he would make the seven-hour drive home to Winona to spend time with his parents.

When investigators came for Curtis Flowers in Texas in January of 1997, Curtis didn't fight extradition back to Mississippi. He just got into a car and was driven back. Curtis was put in a jail just outside Winona to wait for his trial to begin.

Curtis and his family didn't know any lawyers, so his mother asked around. She found out about a father-son legal team from a few towns over, Billy and John Gilmore. The Gilmores hadn't handled many high-profile murder cases, but the family scraped together their savings to pay for them.

In October of 1997, District Attorney, Doug Evans, brought Curtis Flowers to trial for murder. Evans had decided to seek the death penalty. The trial was held 100 miles away in Tupelo. The jury was all White. Doug Evans had been preparing for this moment for more than a year. It was his chance to show the people of Winona that their district attorney would not allow such a horrific crime to go unpunished, and Evans was ready.

There's no recording of that first trial in 1997 because the courthouse where it was stored, burned down. But Idid get a copy of the transcript.

Here's a case that Doug Evans laid out for the jurors. Evans said it all began about two weeks before the murders. Curtis Flowers had just gotten a job at Tardy Furniture. He'd only been there three days when the store's owner, Bertha Tardy, sent Curtis to pick up some batteries for a golf cart.

Curtis loaded these big batteries onto the back of his truck, but he didn't tie them down. And when he drove away, those batteries slid right off and crashed to the ground. And Curtis just looked at those batteries and the damage he'd done to them and laughed.

Bertha Tardy didn't think it was funny. She told Curtis that she had no choice but to dock his pay and fire him. Thirteen days later, on July 16th 1996, Curtis Flowers decided to get revenge for being fired.

He woke up early, walked across town, broke into a car and stole a gun. He walked to Tardy Furniture. When he got there around 10:00 a.m., he walked inside and shot all four people in the head. He grabbed the money from the cash register, maybe $300 or s and then he walked home.

No one witnessed the murders and no one saw Curtis steal the gun. But, Doug Evans said, he was able to recreate the route that Curtis walked that morning, the exact streets he took as Curtis walked to steal the gun, as he walked to Tardy Furniture and as he walked home.

Evans put a series of people on the stand, who testified to seeing Curtis at nearly every point on the route. Investigators never found the gun that was used in the murders, but Evans said they knew from examining the bullets at the crime scene that the gun that was stolen that morning was the murder weapon.

Evans told the jurors that investigators had brought Curtis to the police station on the day of the murders and found a single particle of gunshot residue on his hand. Evans said investigators found bloody shoe prints at the murder scene, made by a Fila Grant Hill basketball shoe.

Investigators never found those shoes, but when they searched the house where Curtis Flowers was living with his girlfriend and her kids, they did find a shoebox for Fila Grant Hill shoes, the same size that made the bloody prints.

And Doug Evans said he had something else, one last piece of evidence that was so strong that it took the case not just beyond a reasonable doubt, but beyond any doubt at all that Curtis Flowers had confessed to the murders, not to law enforcement, but to two people he'd shared a cell with while he was in jail awaiting trial. They both testified.

Randy Stewart, Bobo's father, was sitting in the courtroom for all this. And as he watched Doug Evans tell the story of what his team had been doing for all those months, he marveled at how skillful it was.

It was a jigsaw puzzle. They told the pieces in and it fit. They tracked him from the time he left his house, 'til the time he got back. Okay, we didn't find the tennis shoes. We found a tennis shoebox though. We didn't find a gun, but we found the projectile. The evidence was there. You just had to sit down, listen to it with an open mind and then come back and read your verdict.

And was there ever a moment where you thought, "Well I don't know. Maybe Curtis didn't do it"?

Nope. Nope. The evidence was there. The ones that don't believe it didn't pay attention to the evidence.

Curtis Flowers' lawyers tried to poke holes in the case against him. They said those bloody shoe prints at the crime scene couldn't have come from Curtis. Curtis didn't wear Filas. The lawyers said the shoebox at Curtis' house actually belonged to his girlfriend's teenage son and that her son had outgrown the shoes and thrown them out.

They even had the teenager testify before the jury to confirm that the shoes were his, not Curtis'. The defense talked about the particle of gunshot residue on Curtis' hand. They suggested it could have come from sparkplugs, or from fireworks that Curtis had handled over the July 4th holiday.

They said that Curtis had an alibi. He'd started off his morning at home watching his girlfriend's younger kids before they went to their grandma's house. Then, around 9:00 a.m., about an hour before the murders, Curtis walked to his sister's house and hung out for a few minutes with some people there. Two of them testified about it.

Unfortunately for Curtis' defense that time he spent at his sister's house didn't cover the time that investigators said the murders happened. And finally, the defense decided to call Curtis himself to testify.

On the stand, Curtis denied killing anyone. He said he wasn't fired from Tardy Furniture. He just stopped showing up to work. He said Bertha was nice to him, that she even loaned him $30 to tide them over until his first paycheck.

After the defense was done questioning Curtis, the prosecutor, Doug Evans, had his turn and this questioning of Curtis would be the longest conversation the two men would ever have. Doug Evans said, "You were going to show Ms. Tardy. You were going to go down there and you were going to take a gun and you were going to get any money that you could get your hands on, wasn't you.".

"No, sir," Curtis said.

It went on like this. "You shot everybody in there in the head, didn't you."

"No, I didn't."

"But you made some mistakes, didn't you?".

"No, sir. I didn't do it.".

"You didn't wash all the gunshot residue off your hands.".

"I didn't do it.".

"And you forgot and stepped in the blood.".

"No, sir. I didn't."

"That is just a few of the mistakes you made, isn't it?".

"No, sir. I didn't do it."

The jury deliberated for just 66 minutes. They reached a verdict. Guilty. And they sentence Curtis Flowers to death.

The evidence showed that he was guilty.

We talked to the jurors who were on that first trial. They told us it wasn't difficult to reach that verdict.

There's no doubt in my mind that he did it. It's pretty cut and dry.

And it was obvious that Curtis Flowers was guilty.

The prosecution [signed]. They presented all the evidence, I thought, in a very sequential matter. That's what we call walking the dog, you know, just one step at a time, moving forward. It was well done.

The judge thanked the jury for their service. The trial of Curtis Flowers was over and Randy Stewart left the courtroom thinking justice had finally been served.

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.

If he was executed, would you go watch?

You're damn right, I'd go watch. I will stick the needle in him. I owe that to my son.

Randy Stewart is still waiting for that moment because that verdict in that courtroom in 1997, that was only the beginning of a court battle that so far, lasted 21 years with no sign of ending.

After that verdict in 1997, Curtis Flowers appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court and he won. But he didn't get out of prison. He didn't have that moment that you see on the news, where you win your appeal and the prison doors open and your family rushes past the TV cameras to hug you because the prosecutor, Doug Evans, just decided to try the case again, and again, and again.

In 1999, Curtis Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death for a second time. Again, he appealed and he won.

A death row inmate will get a new trial. Curtis Giovanni Flowers accused of killing four…

Doug Evans just tried it again. In 2004, Curtis Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death. He appealed and he won.

Yesterday in a five to four decision, Justices agreed with Flowers' his attorney that prosecutores can't…

The reason that Curtis Flowers kept winning his appeals is that the Mississippi Supreme Court kept finding that the prosecutor, Doug Evans, had broken the rules. He'd misstated the facts. He'd asked improper questions not in good faith. He'd even violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by striking most Black people off the jury

… and disqualifying Black potential jurors. And Flowers wasn't…

But it didn't matter. Doug Evans tried it again. The case kept going. In 2007, the jury hung. They couldn't decide on a verdict.

The fourth trial of Curtis Giovanni Flowers has ended in mistrial with a hung jury. Flowers…

Doug Evans tried it again. In 2008, another hung jury.

Jurors deliberated more than 10 hours, when the judge declared a mistrial.

Doug Evans tried it again and again, Curtis Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death.

… Furniture store, Curtis Flowers was was sentenced to death on four counts of capital murder in June of 2010. That conviction actually marked the sixth time Flowers have been tried in the case. Flowers…

In case you're wondering, this isn't double jeopardy because double jeopardy would be if you're tried again after you've already been acquitted. And Curtis Flowers has never been acquitted. That last conviction was in 2010.

The verdict is still under appeal. Curtis Flowers has never gone home. The exit from one courtroom was just the entrance to another.

Six trials, over 21 years. Randy Stewart, Bobo's father, has been to every one. He's watched as the case went on, and on. As Curtis won appeals and avoided execution, Randy got more and more frustrated as the years passed.

Randy told me that at a certain point, he decided to take matters into his own hands, to do what the State would not, or could not.

I was planning on murdering Curtis Flowers. I even had it planned out. I was going to assasinate him [inaudible].

So how are you going to do it?

I was going to shoot him in the head with a 270 rifle. Oh, I even had a guy who was going to get me the gun.

Randy said his plan was to watch for Curtis to arrive at the courthouse and to kill Curtis as he stepped out of the van.

If you go to so many trials and if you go paying attention and watching, you can, you know, premeditated or plan it out. Yeah, I had it out in my head. And I would have carried it out. There's no doubt in my mind. It make me no difference. I was going to get rid of him.

Why did you wanted to kill him?

Huh?

Why did…?

Because he killed my son, an eye for an eye. I probably went straight to hell, at the time, it wouldnt make me no difference. I was in it for revenge. And if it hadn't been for God, I wouldn't be sitting here now. Bobo came to me in a dream said, "It's all right, Daddy. [inaudible] your life."

Randy resigned himself to waiting. I found a TV news clip from 2007 where he's talking to a reporter about Curtis's fourth trial.

The wheels of justice turn slow, but I'm willing to wait on the wheels of justice.

Curtis Flowers is now 47. He spent nearly half his life in jail or prison. He continues to insist that he's innocent. If a case has been tried six times, something has gone wrong.

When I started looking at the case of Curtis Flowers, I read the transcripts of the trials, all the appeals, all the motions. And right away, I learned that the prosecution's case against Curtis Flowers wasn't built on any one piece of evidence. There was no DNA match, no video surveillance footage, no witness to the murders, nothing that would absolutely prove that Curtis Flowers committed this crime.

Instead the prosecutor, Doug Evans, had lots and lots of smaller pieces of evidence, pieces that wouldn't mean much on their own. But Evans had managed to put all those pieces together, so that each one looked like part of a bigger story, a story that was clear and convincing. It was like Randy Stewart had said. It was a jigsaw puzzle. So, I wondered how this case would look if I pulled those puzzle pieces apart and held each one up to the light.

One of the first pieces I looked at was something Doug Evans had talked about in that very first trial. It was something the jurors heard right before they had to decide whether to sentence Curtis Flowers to death.

Doug Evans told them that when Curtis was a teenager, he'd done something that sounded really bad. He'd pointed a gun at another teenage boy, said, "I'm going to shoot you," pulled the trigger and shot him in the chest. The way Doug Evans described, it it sounded intentional.

Our producer, Samara, tracked down the boy who Curtis had shot. His name is James Douglas and he's now 46. The address she had for him turned out to be the address of his mother, Willie Mae. James lives in Chicago now, but Willie Mae called him.

Hello.

Hey, James. Hey, Woody.

Yes.

Okay, it's a lady here. She just wants to talk to you about Curtis Flowers.

[Inaudible]

Wait a minute, Woody. She just wants to… Okay, what did you say your name was?

Samara.

Tamara.

Samara, yeah.

Okay, I'm going to put you on the speakerphone, okay?

Okay.

Oh, hi. Hi, James. James?

Hello, yes.

Hi. Can you hear me?

Yes.

James told Samara what had happened. He said that one day, back in high school, he'd gone to Curtis' house between exams. Curtis' parents weren't home.

We was on the front porch and he was like, "Do you believe my daddy's got a gun?" I said, "Yeah, he probably do." And he went in the house and got the gun and he…

James said Curtis was playing with the gun, whipping it up and down, like he was pulling it out of a holster in an old Western.

And then it just boom. The gun went off. He pulled the trigger.

James said Curtis never told him what Doug Evans claimed he did, that line, "I'm going to shoot you." And he said he and Curtis weren't an argument or anything.

And so, were you guys having a fight at the time, like when he did it?

No. No, that didn't happen.

That didn't happen.

No, we didn't have no beef. We didn't have no problems at school, no problems.

And he just went and do something ignorant, I say. He was just ignorant.

Curtis had shot James in the chest, but the boys decided to just go back to school. James zipped his windbreaker over the bullet wound and they headed back. James sat down at his desk. It didn't take long for another kid to notice he was bleeding and James was sent to the hospital.

The shooting was investigated by the Police Chief of Winona at the time. The Chief said it appeared to be an accident, not intentional. And it seemed like Doug Evans should have known this because the Police Chief back then, who made the determination that the shooting was most likely an accident was John Johnson.

John Johnson, the same man who by the time of the flowers case, was Doug Evans' investigator. The story that Doug Evans had presented to the jurors that made the shooting seem intentional didn't seem to be true. That made me wonder about what else Doug Evans told the jurors.

The entire story that Doug Evans had used to try to convince them over six trials that Curtis Flowers was guilty, the story that had cost Curtis Flowers his freedom, that led to Curtis spending the past 21 years in a cell far away from a family, the story that could even cost Curtis Flowers his life. What about that story, the whole story the entire case? Was that story true?

In June of last year., I moved to Mississippi to find out. Coming up this season on In the Dark…

First of all that is confidential. We're not supposed to talk about that.

[Inaudible] full of empty filing cabinets and this one is full of records.

And he said that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that's how he got caught up in that.

I was young and stupid, that they're like, "Were you putting a gun to that man's head and blowing their brains out."

Did I lead you to say anything?

No.

Was your statement fre and voluntary?

Yes.

Mississippi and Mississippi, you know, we all know what goes on in Mississippi. Once we get to you in the courtroom, you're out. If you're Black, we've got you.

You have a sickness, probably. You have not been [inaudible]. I don't know who you think you are to storm out of this court and…

Don't anybody want to see justice? I mean it would be anybody. I want to see justice for anybody.

Are you confident that you have the right person, that Curtis Flowers is guilty?.

That I will answer, definitely. No question at all.

Okay, so I'm going to wrige, "I am not setting you up. I am a reporter. We just want to talk to you."

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 Corey Schreppel.

Archival news recordings, courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History WLBT, WABG and WJTB. You can see photos and videos and check out documents from the case on our website, inthedarkpodcast.org. We'll be posting new stuff every week.

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