With the possibility of a seventh trial looming, Curtis Flowers' defense team is adding to its ranks.
Attorneys for the Mississippi man, whose conviction and death sentence were reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, announced Thursday that North Carolina lawyer Henderson Hill will join their team. Hill is a longtime opponent of capital punishment with expertise in death penalty trials and appeals.
Flowers has been tried six times for the 1996 murders of four people at Tardy Furniture in Winona. Two of those trials ended in hung juries; four resulted in convictions later overturned on appeal. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecutor in the case, District Attorney Doug Evans, violated Flowers' constitutional rights by intentionally removing black prospective jurors at the sixth trial, in 2010. In the coming months, Evans will decide whether to try Flowers a seventh time. If he does, Flowers' defense team, now led by Mississippi lawyer Rob McDuff, is planning a vigorous defense.
Flowers has been incarcerated for more than two decades and has continuously claimed that he was wrongly convicted. His case was the subject of Season Two of In the Dark, an investigative podcast from APM Reports, which found significant flaws in the case against him.
"The justice system's serial abuse of Curtis Flowers — poor, black and innocent — must and will stop," Hill said in a statement. "I am honored to work ... to achieve that to which Mr. Flowers is so deeply entitled: a full measure of justice and vindication."
Flowers isn't Hill's first high-profile, out-of-state client. In 2008, he led a marquee defense team in the Atlanta trial of Brian Nichols, who stood accused of murdering a judge, stenographer and two law enforcement officers during a 2005 courthouse shooting spree. Nichols' defense reportedly cost taxpayers $3.2 million. Nichols was convicted but spared the death penalty.
Hill's resume of capital defense work is lengthy. He founded the Center for Death Penalty Litigation and directed the 8th Amendment Project, a nonprofit legal advocacy group aimed at abolishing the death penalty in the United States. He spent more than a decade in public defense, both in Washington, D.C., and at the federal defender service in Charlotte, N.C. He's helped numerous clients avoid death sentences at trial and won clemency or commutations for several men on death row.
Hill joins the team as co-counsel to McDuff. The men attended Harvard Law School at the same time. McDuff, a Mississippi native with a practice based in Jackson, brings local expertise, experience litigating against Evans and years of civil rights work in the South, including several cases that he took up to U.S. Supreme Court and won. McDuff expects Hill's skills to complement his.
"Henderson Hill is known throughout the country as an excellent lawyer with considerable courtroom experience in criminal defense and capital cases," McDuff said. "He is a tireless proponent of fairness in our justice system, and his presence will add greatly to the effort to finally obtain justice for Curtis Flowers."
The Mississippi Center for Justice — a nonprofit that advocates "on behalf of low-income people and communities of color," according to its website, and with which McDuff is affiliated — is backing Flowers' defense. Findings uncovered by In the Dark — which include the recantations of two key prosecution witnesses and evidence implicating an alternate suspect — will "play an important role going forward," according to Thursday's statement from Flowers' legal team.