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Lawyers seek to question prosecutor in disputed murder case

December 17, 2018

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Defense lawyers are seeking to question a Mississippi district attorney who has tried a man six times in a disputed death penalty case.

In a brief filed last week, that’s among many pieces of evidence that Curtis Flowers’ lawyers sought access to as Flowers makes a new appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

After five previous trials resulting in hung juries or overturned convictions, Flowers was convicted in a sixth trial and sentenced to death for killing four people at a Winona furniture store in 1996.

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a separate appeal claiming Flowers’ conviction should be overturned because prosecutors improperly excluded black jurors. But the state appeal is likely to focus on new information that might indicate Flowers should get a new trial, such as evidence that might clear Flowers or show prosecutors broke the rules in his sixth trial.

Attorney General Jim Hood’s office is defending the appeal and spokeswoman Margaret Ann Morgan declined comment, citing the office’s policy against talking about ongoing litigation.

The decadeslong murder case began in July 1996 when Tardy Furniture Store owner Bertha Tardy and three employees — Robert Golden, Carmen Rigby and Derrick Stewart — were shot in the head.

Authorities eventually charged Flowers, who had worked a brief time in the store, saying he stole cash and shot all four. But the case has long been under intense scrutiny, with disputes about the credibility of the witnesses and claims that prosecutors acted improperly. Three of Flowers’ trials ended in convictions that were overturned on appeal. Two others ended in hung juries before he was convicted in the sixth trial in 2010.

Much of the new evidence that lawyers want the state Supreme Court to consider has been detailed by American Public Media’s “In the Dark” podcast.

Odell Hallmon, a man who had claimed Flowers had confessed the murders to him while both were in prison recanted to the podcast in a recorded conversation. Hallmon made the statements on a contraband cellphone while imprisoned at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman on a life sentence for three murder convictions.

The podcast also questioned the prosecution by District Attorney Doug Evans, suggesting his investigator may have pressured witnesses into testifying about Flowers’ whereabouts on the morning of the murders. Lead defense lawyer Tucker Carrington wrote that claims by multiple witnesses that they saw Flowers walking around Winona is “a fantasy that the prosecution concocted and brought to life by manipulating ‘witnesses’ and their statements.”

Defense attorneys list 35 separate requests, including demands to depose Evans and lawyer Kevin Horan about whether Evans made some kind of deal to help Hallmon’s sister, Patricia Sullivan-Odom, when she was on trial for federal tax fraud charges. Defense lawyers in the sixth trial didn’t learn until afterward that Sullivan Odom was under indictment at the time she testified against Flowers.

The motion was filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court as part of an effort to develop new evidence for filings due Feb. 28 before the state Supreme Court for post-conviction relief. A judge there denied a number of similar requests in an earlier appeal, but Carrington argued the recent revelations prove Evans and others have wrongly been holding back information.

“In several instances, it is now clear that the state has, or should have, evidence that it told this court does not exist,” Carrington wrote. “These circumstances demand a fresh look at Mr. Flowers’ prior requests.”

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Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy .

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