Illuminating Journalism from American Public Media
Curtis Flowers has been tried six times for the same crime. For 21 years, Flowers has maintained his innocence. He's won appeal after appeal, but every time, the prosecutor just tries the case again. What does the evidence reveal? And how can the justice system ignore the prosecutor's record and keep Flowers on death row?
On the morning of July 16, 1996, someone walked into a furniture store in downtown Winona, Mississippi, and murdered four employees. Each was shot in the head. It was perhaps the most shocking crime the small town had ever seen. Investigators charged a man named Curtis Flowers with the murders. What followed was a two-decade legal odyssey in which Flowers was tried six times for the same crime. He remains on death row, though some people believe he's innocent.
The case against Curtis Flowers relies heavily on three threads of evidence: the route he allegedly walked the morning of the murders, the gun that investigators believe he used, and the people he supposedly confessed to in jail. In this episode, we meet the witnesses who said they saw Flowers walking through downtown Winona, Mississippi, the morning of the murders. Some of their stories now waver on key details.
Investigators never found the gun used to kill four people at Tardy Furniture. Yet the gun, and the bullets matched to it, became a key piece of evidence against Curtis Flowers. In this episode, we examine the strange histories of the gun and the man who owned it.
Over the years, three inmates have claimed that Curtis Flowers confessed to them that he killed four people at the Tardy Furniture store. But they've all changed their stories at one time or another. In this episode, we investigate who's really telling the truth.
No witness has been more important to the prosecution's case against Curtis Flowers than Odell Hallmon. He testified in four trials that Flowers had confessed to him while the two men were in prison together. Hallmon has an astonishingly long criminal history that includes repeated charges for drug dealing, assault, and robbery. So how reliable is his testimony and did he receive anything in exchange for it? In this episode, we investigate the veracity of the prosecution's star witness.
Odell Hallmon, the state's key witness in the Curtis Flowers case, is serving three consecutive life sentences. We wondered what he might say now that there are no deals to cut, and he will spend the rest of his days in prison. Would he stick to his story that Flowers had confessed to the Tardy Furniture murders? We wrote him letters and sent him a friend request on Facebook. Weeks went by and we heard nothing. And then, one day, he wrote back.
There's one critical aspect of the Curtis Flowers case that we haven't looked at yet — the makeup of the juries. Each of the four times Flowers was convicted, the jury was all white or nearly all white. So we decided to look more closely at why so few black jurors had been selected. And it wasn't always happenstance.
After investigating every aspect of the Curtis Flowers case, we were nearly ready to present what we'd found to District Attorney Doug Evans. But first we tried to learn all we could about him: his childhood, his years as a police officer and his record as district attorney. Then, finally, we met the man who's spent more than two decades trying to have Flowers executed.
After re-examining the case, we'd found no direct evidence linking Curtis Flowers to the murders at Tardy Furniture. But we had one lingering question: How did Flowers become the main suspect? Why would investigators focus so much on Flowers based on so little evidence? In short, why Curtis? We decided to find out.
Prosecutors have always said that Curtis Flowers was the only serious suspect in the Tardy Furniture investigation. But we found a document showing that another man, Willie James Hemphill, had also been questioned just days after the murders. Who was he? Why was he questioned? When we finally found Hemphill, living in Indianapolis, he had some very surprising things to say about the case.
For the last episode of the season, we went to meet Jeffrey Armstrong, who, a few years after Curtis Flowers first went to prison, found what might have been a key piece of evidence. What he found — and where he found it — offers hints that someone else may have committed the Tardy Furniture murders. Armstrong turned the evidence into the cops. And then, he says, it disappeared.