Flowers, who is Black, spent nearly 23 years in prison for a quadruple murder in the town of Winona in 1996. He has maintained his innocence.
“Today, I am finally free from the injustice that left me locked in a box for nearly twenty three years,” Flowers said in a statement released through his attorneys. “I’ve been asked if I ever thought this day would come. I have been blessed with a family that never gave up on me and with them by my side, I knew it would.”
The dismissal comes at a time of heightened sensitivity over racial inequality in the criminal justice system, and one of his lawyers alluded to that after the court’s action Friday.
“Today’s dismissal, along with the Supreme Court decision in Curtis Flowers’s appeal last year, vindicates one innocent Black American, a gentleman of immense character,” said lawyer Henderson Hill. He said it was part of a movement for “racial equity to replace white supremacy as our justice system’s organizing principle.”
A White local district attorney, Doug Evans, had attempted to convict Flowers in a prosecutorial pursuit that may be without parallel.
Two trials — the only ones with more than one African American on the panel — resulted in hung juries. Three convictions were overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court for prosecutorial misconduct and improper maneuvering by Evans to keep African Americans off the jury.
But the state supreme court said Evans had offered race-neutral reasons in the most recent trial, in 2010, when the prosecutor struck five of six Black potential jurors. Flowers was convicted of the murders in a furniture store of Bertha Tardy, 59, Carmen Rigby, 45, Robert Golden, 42, and 16-year-old Derrick “Bo Bo” Stewart, and sentenced to death.
But the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-to-2 decision by Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, disagreed.
“The state’s relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals strongly suggests that the state wanted to try Flowers before a jury with as few black jurors as possible, and ideally before an all-white jury,” Kavanaugh wrote, adding: “We cannot ignore that history.”
After that, Evans gave up the case. Flowers was released from prison on bond, and Fitch took over the prosecution.
Her office said the case was too weak to continue. “As the evidence stands today, there is no key prosecution witness . . . who is alive and available and has not had multiple, conflicting statements in the record,” her office said in a filing.
Fitch declined further comment.
“As a general rule, General Fitch intends to refrain from seeking media coverage on individual prosecutions in an effort to de-sensationalize this very serious process for the individuals involved,” said spokesperson Colby Jordan. “The families here deserve that respect.”
Much of the evidence against Flowers, who was 26 at the time of the killings, has been disputed in recent years, including witness recantations. His case received national attention because of the reporting of American Public Media in its podcast series “In the Dark.”