Alan Bean, Friends of Justice
Curtis Flowers has been found guilty on all four capital murder counts. No surprise there, but I wasn’t prepared for a twenty-seven minute jury (non)deliberation. That’s right, twenty-seven minutes. Hardly long enough to pick a jury foreman.
The courtroom quickly filled up with the kind of folks who have been leaving derogatory comments on our blog. One older man rushed up the courthouse steps as I was emailing supporters. “I guess I’m late,” I heard him say, “but maybe not.”
“They’re just starting the sentencing phase,” another man replied.
“That’s the part I’m looking for,” the first man exulted.
He will have to wait until tomorrow morning. The defense put on an elaborate and lengthy mitigation case highlighted by the testimony of corrections expert James Aiken. He testified that he had to sit down with Curtis Flowers for two face-to-face meetings because he couldn’t believe that a man locked up for almost fourteen years doesn’t have a single disciplinary write-up. Aiken testified that manipulative inmates can put up a good front for a short time, but anyone who holds up for over a decade is an exceptional inmate.
The disconnect was almost surreal. There is a very good reason why Curtis Flowers has a discipline record bordering on the miraculous–he is 100% innocent. He simply doesn’t fit the killer profile. His detractors have done a good job of demonizing Mr. Flowers over the years, but anyone who has sat down with the man (as I did for forty-five minutes Wednesday night) can’t help but be impressed with his gentle faith and quiet confidence.
The sentencing hearing got under way with several representatives of the victims families testifying. The room was in tears as Roxanne Ballard explained that her children were too young in 1996 to know the woman she used to be. One of Carmen Rigby’s sons talked about the horror of losing a mother on the verge of college. The grief in the room was palpable.
Unfortunately, the victim families will find little solace in the conviction of an innocent man. I suspect they know that. Curtis Flowers has long been the fifth victim of the Tardy tragedy. Sentencing him to death does nothing to bring solace to the grieving families.
Several potential jurors who swore they could put their deep affection for the victims families aside if they were named to the jury joined the celebrants in the courtroom this evening. I suspect they still think they could have been fair and impartial, but the joy on their faces tonight suggested otherwise.
Several family members testified that Curtis was devoted and fun-loving. Archie Flowers, talked about the day Curtis joined his gospel group, the Unionaires. “I kept asking him to start singing in public,” Archie recalled, “but he just told me he’d let me know when he was ready.”
A video clip of Curtis singing lead for the Unionaires was then played. There was something eery about a younger, slimmer Curtis Flowers belting our a gospel tune on the screen while his father looked on from the jury box.
“I’m afraid we’re going to have to interrupt this presentation,” Judge Loper broke in. “I’m told the pizzas for the jurors have arrived and we don’t want the food to get cold.”
On the way out of the courthouse, the father of one of the slain victims confronted Curtis Flowers’ sister, Priscilla. “We always knew that nigger was guilty anyway,” he barked. Sheriff’s deputies quickly descended on the scene. The same man had approached me earlier in the day as well. I had been fielding insults all week long, and was running short on patience. “If you want to try out a clever insult, I’m not interested,” I snapped.
Moments later, I apologized. People don’t get over the kind of tragedy that engulfed Winona fourteen years ago. On the other hand, a personal tragedy is no excuse for boorish behavior; especially when the crude remark is aimed at the sister of a man about to be sentenced to death by lethal injection.
The packed courthouse received the verdict without an outcry. After twenty-seven minutes, everyone knew what was coming.
I will have more to say about the sentence in a day or two. The jury will almost certainly hand Curtis Flowers another death sentence. There is no big surprise here. We were hoping for a better result, but when a jury of eleven whites and one black was selected the writing was on the wall. That’s okay; every successful campaign Friends of Justice has launched began with a conviction (sometimes several). This case is simply too weak to stand.
So enjoy the party while it lasts, Winona; brighter days lie ahead for Curtis Flowers and his loved ones.