District Attorney Doug Evans has been trying Curtis Flowers in Mississippi courtrooms for 21 years. Now Flowers' lawyers want to turn the tables on the prosecutor.
In a discovery motion filed Friday in state district court, Flowers' attorneys asked a judge to grant them a deposition with Evans. They want to ask Evans about his interactions with Odell Hallmon, a now-discredited jailhouse informant whose testimony helped put Flowers on death row for the 1996 murders of four people at the Tardy Furniture store in Winona.
In the filing, Flowers' legal team called the state's theory of the murders "a fantasy that the prosecution concocted and brought to life by manipulating 'witnesses.'" They cited reporting by In the Dark as evidence that Evans has withheld information favorable to Flowers' defense and asked a judge to order Evans to turn over a slew of never-before-seen documents.
"Time and again, the state has told this court that it has turned over everything it has relating to the investigation of the Tardy murders. New evidence uncovered by Mr. Flowers and independent investigative journalists, however, shows that there is far more to the story than what the state has disclosed," Flowers' lawyers wrote.
Flowers has two different appeals underway. Friday's motion is unrelated to Flowers' direct appeal of his 2010 conviction, which will soon be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. It's instead part of his petition for post-conviction relief, which has been quietly moving along and will become Flowers' best chance at freedom if the nation's highest court denies his direct appeal.
Flowers' attorneys are up against a February 2019 deadline for filing an amended version of his post-conviction appeal, which can include new findings and information not known at the time of his sixth trial. This latest motion is an attempt to unearth any facts that could help their client.They cite the exhaustive analysis by APM Reports that found that over 26 years of Evans' tenure as district attorney, he and his assistants struck black prospective jurors at 4.4 times the rate they struck white prospective jurors. Flowers' attorneys argue that, because Evans has "a clear motive to hide the truth" about whether he has intentionally kept black people off juries, they deserve access to the district attorney's original, unedited notes from jury selection in every murder case his office has ever tried.
Flowers' lawyers also want prosecutors to turn over records from the arrest and 11-day detention of Willie James Hemphill, who told APM Reports that he was a suspect in the Tardy Furniture murders. During Flowers' 2010 trial proceedings, Evans claimed that Hemphill hadn't been seriously pursued and that his office had turned over all relevant documents about him — just a single page — to the defense.
But reporting by In the Dark indicates that Hemphill was questioned at length about the murders, which should have produced notes and documents that Flowers' defense team has never seen. In their motion, the lawyers ask for the tapes and transcripts of Hemphill's statements, the results of the examinations of his fingerprints and Fila Grant Hill shoes, and documentation of the multi-state manhunt that led Hemphill to turn himself in for questioning.
The attorneys also want to depose key members of law enforcement who worked the case: the Mississippi Highway Patrol investigators who interviewed Hemphill in jail, Jack Matthews and Wayne Miller; and the two men who likely handled the .380-caliber pistol that Jeffery Armstrong found just 700 feet from Tardy Furniture in 2001, former Winona police Chief Johnny Hargrove and Evans' former lead investigator John Johnson.
Flowers' lawyers are also seeking a subpoena of Odell Hallmon, who told APM Reports that he was lying when, in four of Flowers' trials, he testified that Flowers had confessed to committing the Tardy Furniture murders. If they're allowed to question Evans under oath, defense lawyers are likely to ask if he promised Hallmon any benefits in exchange for testimony, as Hallmon has claimed.
Evans didn't respond to APM Reports' request for comment about the defense's assertions. But the district attorney has gone on the record before, saying that he doesn't have anything else to hand over. "Everything that is there is in the court file," Evans told a judge at a 2016 hearing. "There is nothing else that we can give them."
Flowers' attorneys now want to find out if that's true.