In the Dark

Mississippi to pay Curtis Flowers $500,000 for his decades behind bars

Judge orders state to give Flowers the maximum compensation for his wrongful conviction.

Curtis FlowersBen Depp for APM Reports

The state of Mississippi will pay Curtis Flowers $500,000 for his nearly 23 years of wrongful imprisonment. 

Mississippi Circuit Judge George Mitchell ordered the compensation on Tuesday. Under the judgment — which the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office didn’t oppose — the state will pay Flowers $50,000 a year for the next 10 years. 

“I feel good,” Flowers said on Tuesday. “I believe it should have been more, but I feel good.” 

Flowers was tried an unprecedented six times for the 1996 murders of four people at Tardy Furniture store in the central Mississippi town of Winona. Four of his trials ended in convictions and death sentences, all later overturned on appeal due to prosecutorial misconduct. Two others resulted in hung juries. Even when his convictions were reversed, Flowers remained incarcerated waiting for retrials. He was behind bars continuously for nearly 23 years — from his arrest in January 1997 until his release in December 2019. Most of that time was spent on death row at Mississippi’s infamous Parchman prison

The $500,000 award is the maximum allowed under Mississippi law, which grants $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, up to a limit of 10 years. That means that Flowers will be compensated for less than half the time he was confined. And it’s a modest sum compared to what he would have received in some other states. In Texas, for instance, Flowers would have been entitled to roughly $1.76 million. 

Flowers’ case was the subject of Season 2 of In the Dark. Reporters for the podcast conducted a yearlong investigation of the case and found that the evidence against Flowers was flawed and unreliable. 

After the release of the podcast, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Flowers’ case. In June 2019, the high court ruled that District Attorney Doug Evans, the prosecutor in the case, had violated Flowers’ constitutional rights by striking African Americans during jury selection at Flowers’ sixth trial in 2010. The justices vacated Flowers’ conviction, handed down by a nearly all-white jury, and sent the case back to Winona. 

An extraordinary series of events followed. While awaiting a possible seventh trial, Flowers was released on bail by Judge Joey Loper who, at a December 2019 hearing, ruled that “the state has failed to convince this court that the proof of Mr. Flowers' guilt is evident.” The following month, Evans recused himself from the case he’d pursued for much of his career and turned the prosecution over to the Attorney General’s office. In September, after reviewing the evidence, that office dismissed the charges against Flowers. At last, he was free. 

Flowers’ lawyers filed his claim for compensation in November, asserting — as Flowers has all along — his innocence. 

“A 26-year-old gospel singer with no criminal record, Mr. Flowers was always an unlikely suspect,” the request for compensation read. “His peaceful disposition and tendency to avoid conflict, as confirmed by his spotless prison record spanning nearly twenty-three years, strikes at the foundation of the District Attorney’s theory that he was driven by anger to commit a quadruple murder.” 

Curtis Flowers with his fiancée. GBsnapshotz LLC

A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. However, the office’s decision to concede Flowers’ claim for restitution indicates that Flowers provided sufficient proof, as required by law, that he didn’t commit the murders at Tardy Furniture. 

“As we have learned more about this case in recent years, it is now widely acknowledged that Curtis Flowers did not commit this crime. He clearly qualified for compensation under this law. It is no surprise that the Attorney General’s office has acknowledged this,” said Flowers’ lawyer, Rob McDuff of the Mississippi Center for Justice. “Five hundred thousand dollars is not nearly enough money. Unfortunately, that’s all that’s allowed.” 

Since his release, Flowers, 50, has spent much of his time telling his story on Zoom calls. He’s trying to raise awareness about racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. He talks about one day starting a foundation to help incarcerated people who need legal assistance.

Flowers’ first annual payment of $50,000 has already been appropriated by the Mississippi House, and awaits final action in the state Senate. Flowers hopes to put some of the money toward buying a piece of land and building a house where he can one day live with his fiancée and her three children. 

When he’s not focused on his advocacy work, Flowers has been fishing a lot, and planning his wedding. His wife-to-be is a marketing specialist who grew up in the town next to Winona. They began corresponding while Flowers was in prison and will be married later this month. 

“I’m living every day to the fullest now and hoping that everything works out,” Flowers said. “I’m happy. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m doing everything I can to make sure it’s a good one.”