Since we released the final episode of "In the Dark" Season 2, in early July, listeners have sent us many questions. You called them in, tweeted, Facebook messaged and emailed them to us. "In the Dark" host Madeleine Baran and Senior Producer Samara Freemark recently went into the studio to answer some of those queries. The following is an excerpt from that conversation, edited for clarity and length.
What happens next with Curtis Flowers' case?
The big news is that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Curtis Flowers' appeal
. The court is looking narrowly at whether the district attorney, Doug Evans, discriminated against black people in jury selection for Flowers' sixth trial, in 2010. The way the process works is that, in the next couple of months, both sides will be submitting written briefs to the court. Then the court will schedule oral arguments — that's when both sides will appear before the nine justices in Washington, D.C., and each side will have 30 minutes to make its case. After that oral argument, the justices will deliberate privately on whether to overturn the conviction. The case will be decided by June 2019, when the court's current term ends.
What happens if Curtis wins? If the Supreme Court overturns his conviction, does he get out of prison?
. He would remain incarcerated while District Attorney Doug Evans decides what to do. Evans has three main options. First, he could dismiss the charges and just drop case. If he did that, then Curtis would be released from jail right away. Second, he could offer Curtis a plea deal. There's a particular kind of plea deal that's worth pointing out. It's called an Alford plea. In this arrangement, the defendant can technically plead guilty but maintain his innocence. Essentially what he's doing is saying, "Look, I'm acknowledging that if I went to trial, there's enough evidence to convict me. But I'm not saying that I did this crime." Then, of course, if Doug Evans doesn't dismiss the case or offer a plea deal, the third option is putting Flowers on trial again — for a seventh time.
From a caller: "Hi, my name is Karen Dover, and I was just wondering how many times can you actually try the same person for the same crime. And is there any limitation?"
No. If you are acquitted of a crime — a jury finds you not guilty — then you cannot be tried again. But Curtis, of course, was never found not guilty
. In four of the trials, a jury found him guilty. And in two of them, they couldn't reach a verdict.
What happens if the Supreme Court upholds the conviction?
That is definitely not a good outcome for Curtis Flowers. It would mean that he would, of course, remain on death row. He would still have other options in his appeal, the main one being something called a post-conviction petition in which he could introduce new evidence that wasn't known at the time of trial. If he loses at the Supreme Court, then he could continue moving forward with his post-conviction appeal. It could take years to make its way through the courts.
From a caller: "My name is Kat, and I'm calling from Fairfield, Connecticut, about the Curtis Flowers case. I was wondering why it was never requested by the defense lawyers for a change of venue for the trial. It seems like once the jury was so familiar with the case, that it would have compromised their objectivity. So I'm just curious if that ever came up and what were the results if it did."
Actually, the first two trials were held in different parts of Mississippi. One of those trials was held down on the Gulf and the other was held northeast of Winona, in Tupelo. It's definitely a question that the defense has to consider. The risk of having the trial in Montgomery County, in Winona, is that everyone knows about this case. This is a town of 4,000 people. So, many people are connected in some way to the people who might testify in this case or to their families. When you read through the jury selection, you see, at certain points, they just say, "Okay, raise your hand if you know this witness." And sometimes 30 hands go up. It becomes much harder to find a jury that can set aside whatever information they do know and be fair and impartial. If you look at it that way, it might suggest that the defense would always want to move to a different venue.
On the other hand, the risk is that they don't get to pick where the trial is going to move. Montgomery County is only slightly majority white. There are lots of places in Mississippi that are much whiter. From the defense's perspective, they have historically believed that they have faced a very hard time getting a fair trial in front of an all-white or nearly all-white jury. When the first and second trials were moved, it was to a place that was much whiter, demographically, than Montgomery County. That's sort of the tradeoff that the defense must weigh.
Have you heard from Doug Evans since the podcast came out?
We have not, though we have reached out to him since the podcast came out. We'll certainly continue to reach out to him and hope that he does talk to us again.
From @Heatherkatapple on Twitter:
Doug Evans really is his own boss, so he doesn't even need to get assigned to a trial. As a district attorney, as the top prosecutor in his area, he gets to decide if he will try the case. The court could say he's not allowed to try this case again or something along those lines. That hasn't happened in this case, but not for lack of trying by the defense. They've tried to get him removed from the case
. They've also tried, more than once, to convince the court to not allow Doug Evans to have any peremptory strikes in jury selection. Curtis' attorneys have pointed to Evans' record of using a lot of his strikes to remove black people
from the jury pool and have said to the court, "Look, in light of that, Curtis can't get a fair trial unless you take away Doug Evans' ability to strike those jurors." The courts have disagreed.
Does Doug Evans have any plans to retire? Is anyone going to run against him?
He's up for re-election in 2019. So far, there's no indication that he is going to retire. He gave a public statement about it maybe a year or so ago, saying that he has no plans to retire. And, of course, every time he's run in the past, except for once, he's run unopposed. So far, no one's stepped forward to say they're running against him this time.
From @shaunpconley on Twitter:
The question right now is whether the bar association is looking at all at Doug Evans. The Mississippi Bar doesn't comment on anything it's currently investigating or even if it's currently investigating. But we do know — because we've seen documents from one listener who's filed a bar complaint — that one has been filed and that Doug Evans has responded to that bar complaint via a lawyer he now has in Grenada, Mississippi. The complaint has not been decided on or ruled on in any way, but it has been filed. So we will continue to monitor that.
The bar association can take a couple of steps if it finds that a lawyer has engaged in conduct that is not allowed. One of them is a private reprimand in which a lawyer basically gets a letter from the bar association saying, "This is not allowed." A lawyer could also be publicly reprimanded. That would, perhaps, look like being called before a judge and being read a reprimand. It's very rare for a lawyer to be disbarred
Is Odell Hallmon still on Facebook and does he still have that cell phone?
I don't know if he still has the phone, but he is still on Facebook. He's on Facebook under a fake name, as he's been for some time. A while ago, I checked to see if he had posted or liked anything, and he was still liking some stuff. We contacted the Mississippi Department of Corrections and asked a spokesperson why Odell has a cell phone
. Like, what's going on? I mean, he's serving three consecutive life sentences for killing three people. And we know that he has used Facebook to send messages to the families of the people he killed, asking for money. The corrections department didn't really provide any information. They wouldn't comment on whether they searched his cell.
Odell Hallmon's call to APM Reports from Parchman prison.
From @MJaquesLeslie and @jurisdogtor on Twitter:
Yes, definitely. Both I and our producer Natalie were known, I think, as those two ladies from the radio, the people reporting on Curtis' case, those ladies from Minnesota. It was no secret that we were in town reporting. I should say, too, that so many people in Winona were incredibly welcoming to us and really helpful. Like, I'm trying to find where someone lives and he lives in the third trailer behind a house somewhere and there's no actual address. We were really helped a great deal by people in town, just giving us the most basic information. And, of course, we were there for so long that people knew us.
I think, as a reporter, one of the advantages to having this much time is that you can earn people's trust. It's not reasonable to show up and demand that people trust you. If you've talked to other people in a person's family, for example, or on their block, and those people say that it went well, that those reporters seem like they're serious about their jobs and they listened, then the next person might hear about that and feel like, "Okay, I know a little bit about this person. I'm a little more comfortable." Or even just seeing us around. We weren't from there but after a certain point, we weren't strangers. A lot of this reporting was done just by knocking on doors. In fact, that was largely how it was done. We would get up in the morning and we'd have a long list of people that we were hoping to talk to, and we would just start going down the list and going to people's houses, seeing who was home. And we'd just do that again the next day, and the next day, and the next.
From a caller: "I just had a question about the fact that a lot of the people doing the interviewing on your podcast are women. And I was just wondering, as women interviewing men, did you feel that the men you interviewed were less likely to be confrontational or aggressive with you because you were women? Or the opposite? Did you ever feel concerned for your safety as women who were occasionally confronting or interviewing men who had a history sometimes of dangerous or violent behavior? Thanks very much for all the work you do. This is Lindsay calling from Tokyo."
As a female reporter, I think, in some ways there is an advantage because you don't seem threatening to someone. And, in general, reporters should try to not seem threatening. I think the best approach is low-key and non-confrontational. Treat people decently. If you treat people with respect, then you increase the chances that they'll do the same to you. If you go in like, "I've got a list of questions and I'm here to demand answers and I'm not leaving," then it's reasonable to expect that people might not like that. I mean, I wouldn't like that.
I've worked on other projects where it's clear that people are underestimating what might be happening because there's a female reporter. A lot of the safety concerns in this case were the same, though. I'd also add that there's a difference in being a white reporter that we thought about in a lot of these exchanges. I think all the things about you impact the project, for better or worse, in different ways. I didn't feel like the people we were talking to were less likely to be angry with me because I was a woman. I will say that. As is the case with strong emotions, sometimes people are just angry. But I do think that we reduce the chance of that, like I said, by just being reasonable.
I definitely think about how I would feel if I opened the door and there were two men standing there carrying all that gear wanting to talk to me, especially if it was, you know, after work, 6 p.m., starting to get a little dark. It felt like an advantage to be a woman sometimes for sure.
Yeah, definitely. People have also often seen us before we knock on their door. So it's a combination of those things. I wouldn't say something like "There's no way that a male reporter or an all-male team could do this work." I think that would be ridiculous to say. The most successful reporters, who I really look up to, really do try to put people at ease. So you think a lot about that. You're only there to figure out what happened. If there is a reason why someone is really going to feel uncomfortable about you just showing up at their house, well, you don't do that then. You try to think of a different way. You want to figure out, how can I show, not convince, but show this person that I'm going to be responsible? Do I need to send links to stories that I've done in the past? Do I need to have a person I've interviewed in the past call this person and explain what it was like to be interviewed? You're always thinking about those things.
It was so important for reporting this story that we had time and that we lived in that area. I just don't think the story could have been done thoroughly and responsibly otherwise. On a practical level, there's a ton of people we never would've been able to reach. We would have never gotten many of the documents we did. I hope it comes through in the podcast a bit when, you know, we show Parker scanning and scanning and scanning all these documents. People can get a sense of why investigative reporting takes time and maybe why it's valuable, why it's something that people should really think about supporting. Because, facts aren't cheap to come by.
That's going to be our new fundraising slogan. I like that.
Facts aren't cheap.
We got a lot of questions about the fact that we couldn't talk to Curtis Flowers. Did the prison prevent "In the Dark" from talking to Curtis based on a request from his defense team?
No. The prison just denied my request
and denied not only me visiting Curtis in prison but also me interviewing him on the phone. Once the prison denied a request both to interview Curtis in person and on the phone, we asked the defense if we could interview Curtis basically over letters. And they said no. We also found out from the Flowers family that the defense had instructed Curtis not to write back to us. So it was a combination of the prison denying us access and the defense denying us access. So we have this person at the center of our story who we cannot, so far, talk to. Although I still hope, one day, to be able to speak with him.
From a caller: "Hi, this is Molly Hughes calling from Rochester, New York. First, I'd just like to say you guys are doing an amazing job, an incredible and courageous job with both seasons of "In the Dark." So thank you for that. Second, my question is regarding if Curtis Flowers — if the Supreme Court does rule to overturn his conviction, and if Curtis is released. No. 1, would he return to Winona? And No. 2, if so, would he or should he have any fear for his personal safety if he returns?"
I haven't talked to Curtis about this, so I don't know what he would say. But his family has told me that they don't think Curtis would return to Winona, Mississippi. The reason for that is they just don't think Curtis would be safe there. In the podcast, we get into the fact that his family's house already burned down once in the middle of the trials. More than that, though, everywhere I went in Winona, whether I was talking to white people who thought Curtis was guilty, or black people who thought he was innocent, everybody shared this one belief, which was that Curtis is not safe in Winona because people would want to kill him if he was out. We also know that Randy Stewart, the father of Bobo Stewart, the youngest victim, had plotted to kill Curtis years ago. He told us that.Randy StewartBen Depp for APM Reports
One of the people who told me that Curtis wouldn't be safe in Winona is the current elected constable, so a member of law enforcement, a guy named Jerry Bridges. Basically, he said something like, "Well if he gets out, we'll have another murder." To him it's that certain. So it does not seem like a safe situation for Curtis. Of course, who knows if it would actually happen. But that is absolutely the feeling in Winona: It would not make any sense for him to stay there.
From caller Brandon Erby: "Any leads for Season 3?"
We haven't picked a story yet. We will be working on that a lot in the coming months. It's one of the biggest decisions, maybe the biggest decision that we make. And so we tend to spend a lot of time researching and reporting a couple of stories before we settle on one. We don't have a secret story idea that we're not telling you about. So stay tuned.
And the other thing to add is, as you can tell from Season 2, our reporting takes a lot of time. So please be patient and know that we're working to bring you Season 3.
We've really loved hearing from listeners over the course of the podcast. Please stay in touch.