The case against Curtis Flowers is based on three main threads of evidence: the route that witnesses said he walked to Tardy Furniture, the gun that prosecutors alleged he used to shoot four employees, and the confessions he supposedly made while incarcerated. In this episode, we investigate the three inmates who claimed that Flowers confessed to them.
May 15, 2018
When a prosecutor puts a jailhouse informant on the stand, there are two key questions: Is the informant telling the truth, and, if not, does the prosecutor know the informant is lying?
Prosecutors have a legal and ethical obligation to not use a witness they know isn't telling the truth. A prosecutor's duty isn't to win a conviction, but to seek justice.
In Curtis Flowers' first trial, in 1997, Maurice Hawkins and Frederick Veal were likely lying when they testified that Flowers had confessed to them in the Leflore County Jail. Both later recanted and neither testified at any of Flowers' subsequent trials.
Frederick Veal said his statement had been coerced and that he'd been threatened when he hesitated to take the stand, according to court records. More than 15 years later, Hawkins and Veal both signed affidavits reaffirming their recantations. Hawkins died in 2016. Veal hasn't wavered in his assertion that Flowers never confessed to him.
After his January 1997 arrest for the murders at Tardy Furniture, Curtis Flowers was held in the Leflore County Jail in Greenwood, Mississippi. While he waited for his October trial, he shared a cell with as many as eight inmates. Nearly all of them were questioned by John Johnson, an investigator for the district attorney, after spending time with Flowers. Two of them — Frederick Veal and Maurice Hawkins — would be subpoenaed by the state to testify at Flowers' first trial.
Both testified that Flowers had confessed to them during late-night chats, though none of their cellmates said they heard it happen. Veal and Hawkins later recanted, saying they'd offered information about Flowers in exchange for a deal.
The following text is what happened inside that cell, according to interviews and sworn affidavits from some of the men who were there. It's been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Timmy Haymore, sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter: I went in in 1996. I was the only man in the cell at first. Curtis Flowers came in right behind me. After his arrest, he stayed in the Winona jail, I think, two days. Then they transferred him to the Greenwood jail, and they locked him up with me.
Morgan McClurg, sentenced to 20 years for burglary and grand larceny: I think they were afraid that, if they put him in the Winona jail in Montgomery County, if anybody wanted to get to him, all they had to do was get a public disorderly or public intoxication, go to jail and then be right there with him and be able to do something. I think for his safety, they wanted him kept away.
Haymore: We were in Cell 2. Curtis stayed right over me. I was on the bottom rack, Curtis was on the top rack. He always sat by himself on the edge of that rack, just mind wandering. One day, I said, "Curtis, man, you better get up and move around. It's gonna be alright." I didn't know what he was charged with. And he didn't say nothing right that day. A couple days later, I said, "Man, get out of that bed and come and play a game. Sometimes it's better to let it out than to hold it in." I asked him, "What are you charged with Curtis?" And he said, four capital murders. I was looking at him, trying to see a reaction. And he sat there and he said, "Lord knows best. I didn't do this." That's what he said. And tears were coming out of his eyes. He said, "I don't know why they charged me with it. I didn't do this." You can feel, if you're human, you can feel when a person is telling the truth and telling a lie.
McClurg: I got locked up for being dumb on one of them drunk nights. Burglary, grand larceny. I think it was some chainsaws and little lawn mower things. Just some little junk no one would even really miss, but when they caught me, they threw it all on me at one time. I ended up getting 20 years.
Haymore: If Curtis couldn't talk to you about the word of God, Curtis wouldn't talk to you at all. He read books, he wrote letters. I know he wrote five, six letters a week — to his sister, his family, his mama. They always sent him a letter back. Encouraged him to be strong. Cause he never been locked up before. You can lose your mind behind the bars, looking at them walls 24/7. At first, it was me and him. We picked up some more guys ... two, four, six, about eight.
There are statements from six former inmates at the Leflore County Jail in the Flowers case file. The first was made on March 11, 1997, when Frederick Veal was interviewed by John Johnson and Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks. According to Veal, this statement was recorded after he told the men that his cellmate Curtis Flowers hadn't confessed to him.
"I didn't have nothing. That's when they started putting all this stuff together to try to get this man convicted," Veal said. "They came down and gave me a piece of paper telling me what happened in the case. Doug Evans had all the pictures sitting in front of me. Gruesome pictures."
Sheriff Ricky Banks denies that this meeting took place. "I didn't meet with the D.A. and anybody else to discuss the statement that you're talking about. I haven't made up a story about anything," Banks said. "I wouldn't be here if I made stories up, and I've been here since 1972."
March 1997: Frederick Veal
Following Veal's release from jail, nearly all of the people that had shared the cell with him and Curtis Flowers were questioned by John Johnson and Ricky Banks. These interviews seemed to target two issues. The first was whether the inmates would undermine Frederick Veal's testimony that Flowers had confessed. The second was whether Flowers had tried to involve them in an effort to discredit Veal, such as a note to attorneys involved in the case.
The four inmate statements from the court file are below. Many of them were recorded after the men had moved on from the Leflore County Jail to serve out the rest of their sentences in state prison or under house arrest.
Morgan McClurg remembers being questioned by investigators more than once about Curtis Flowers. Timmy Haymore recalls feeling intimated by the investigators' questions. "At that moment, being my first time being incarcerated, I didn't know what would happen," he said.
Carlton Bennett died in early 2017. Only the first page of his statement has survived in the court record. Homer Hughes couldn't be located.
June 1997: Morgan McClurg, Timmy Haymore, Carlton Bennett, Homer Hughes
On July 3, 1997, a second snitch came forward to say that Flowers had confessed in the Leflore County Jail. Sheriff Ricky Banks asserted that Maurice Hawkins approached him just after he had been released on house arrest by a judge. Banks' note about their exchange is below.
"Maurice Hawkins came to me after court," Banks wrote. "He said that Curtis Flowers had told him that he had to kill the black male in the furniture store because he was there, even though the black guy was his cousin. He also said that he used a .380 pistol. He said that ... he never got the money from the safe when there was supposed to be $20,000."
The following month, according to Hawkins' testimony, investigators picked him up one day after work and recorded a more detailed version of the statement Hawkins had earlier given to Sheriff Banks. It's signed by Hawkins ad John Johnson.
Maurice Hawkins died in 2016. Shortly before his death, he gave a sworn statement to Curtis Flowers' attorneys reaffirming that Flowers had never confessed to him.
July/August 1997: Maurice Hawkins
At Curtis Flowers' second trial, in 1999, Odell Hallmon testified for the defense. He claimed on the stand that his sister's testimony against Flowers was all a lie. He said he'd hatched a plan to have his sister testify as a way to get the $30,000 in reward money and bail him out of jail.
But by 2001, Odell had switched sides. On May 7, 2001, just two years after he'd testified in Flowers' defense, Odell gave a statement — actually two statements, but more on that in a minute — for the prosecution. At 11:33 a.m., Odell taped a statement at a jail in Vaiden, Mississippi, with John Johnson, an investigator with the district attorney's office. On this day, he claimed that his sister had actually been telling the truth all along, and that he and Flowers had concocted a scheme to say she lied as a way to exonerate Flowers.
Then three hours later, John Johnson recorded another statement with Odell. This time, Odell's lawyer was also present. It's not clear what happened in those three hours or why a second statement was needed. But this second recording featured a much more elaborate story that included Flowers asking Odell to murder a witness, and Flowers implying he had committed the Tardy Furniture murders. Both videos are below.
Odell's most damning statement came in the letter he wrote to District Attorney Doug Evans directly. Here, Odell said that Curtis didn't just insinuate that he was guilty; he confessed outright and provided details about the crime.
-RAY CHARLES CARTER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY
Johnny Vince Evans