Curtis Flowers, 44, currently sits on Mississippi’s death row for the murders of four people including his former boss.  Flowers worked at Tardy Furniture in Winona, Mississippi in 1996.  After a series of mistrials, errors, and successful appeals, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that Flowers’ 6th trial was free from error.  Flowers was convicted of the execution-style murders of Robert Golden, Carmen Rigdy, Derrick Stewart, and Bertha Tardy.

In a 6-3 decision, the court rejected arguments made by Sheri Lynn Johnson of the Cornell Death Penalty Project, that there were “many odd characteristics and many errors” in the last trial.  She alleged that the prosecution “cheated” when they made several misstatements during closing arguments, introduced unreliable witness testimony, and displayed racial discrimination during jury selection.

“No way one person could have shot all four people at close range,” Johnson said.  None of the victims were restricted in anyway (i.e. handcuffed, tied up, etc.).

Melanie Thomas, Special Assistant Attorney General, successfully argued that a witness identified Flowers as being in front of the store shortly before the murders, that he had a clear motive, and that the Tardy family was afraid of Flowers.

On the morning of July 16, 1996, Sam Jones Jr., a retired employee of Tardy Furniture, went to the store to teach two new employees, Golden and 16-year-old Stewart, how to properly load and unload furniture.  He entered the store between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m. and found the victims’ bodies.  All four had been shot in the head once, except for Golden who was shot twice. The 87-year-old, now deceased, said that he was startled by “gurgling” sounds.  The prosecution insisted it was Stewart who died a week later from his injuries.

Flowers was immediately a suspect after investigators learned he was fired from the store several days before and owed Bertha Tardy $30.  Prosecutors also alleged that Flowers was angry that his last check was withheld to pay for damaged merchandise. Other evidence in the case included a bloody shoe print, which matched Flowers’ shoe size and tread, the gun used in the murders matched the caliber of one stolen from Flowers’ uncle the morning of the murders, cash found in Flowers’ home was close to the amount stolen from the store, and a gunshot residue test (GSR) came back positive on Flowers’ hands.

  • In 1997, Flowers faced his first trial in Lee County for the murder of Tardy.  He was found guilty and sentenced to death.  His conviction was reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct.  The prosecution introduced evidence related to the deaths of the other victims Flowers was not accused of killing.
  • In 1999, Flowers stood trial again this time in Harrison County and just for Stewart’s murder.  He was convicted and sentenced to death.  His conviction was reversed again for prosecutorial misconduct.  The prosecution again introduced evidence related to the other victims with which Flowers was not charged.
  • In 2004, Flowers was tried for all 4 murders in Montgomery County.  He was convicted and sentenced to death.  His conviction was reversed for prosecutorial misconduct.  The prosecution used racial discrimination during jury selection.
  • In 2007, Flowers was tried again in Montgomery County.  He did not face the death penalty.  The jury deadlocked.
  • In 2008, in Montgomery County, during jury deliberations, two jurors were arrested for perjury.  An alternate juror and a female juror, Mary Annette Purnell.  Purnell claimed during voir dire that she didn’t know Flowers, but it was revealed that her car was seen prior to the trial at his parents’ house and that she was an approved visitor for Flowers while he was in prison awaiting trial.  James Bibbs introduced information during jury deliberations that had not been presented during the trial.  A mistrial was declared.
  • Flowers’ last trial took place in 2010 in Montgomery County.  The jury deliberated for 30 minutes after a 2 week trial and found Flowers guilty.  He was sentenced to death.

The Tardy murders, as they are called, split the county between innocence and guilt.  However, over time the gap has diminished.  A recent poll of Montgomery County citizens found that a large number of residents still remain undecided of his guilt, a small percentage believe he did not act alone, but is guilty, and others believe he acted alone and is guilty.

Ormon Knox, the foreman in the 5th trial, said there are numerous conspiracy theories around the county.  Some residents believe that two men accused of robbing a pawn shop and shooting two people in Alabama around the same time as the Tardy murders may have been the real killers.  The same caliber gun was used in both.  The prosecution has consistently been criticized for trying to keep African Americans off the Flowers’ jury.  The prosecution has defended this by saying that the majority of black residents in Montgomery County either knew Flowers personally or had sued Tardy Furniture.  As a result of the criticism, Senator Lydia Chassaniol introduced legislation that would allow for an impartial jury to be drawn from a wider geographical area than the county were the crime was committed.

“I offered the bill because the jury pool seemed to be depleting rapidly due to several trials,” Chassaniol said.  She also noted advances in transportation and concerns of impartiality.

Most experts believe her bill would have to be a constitution amendment instead.  She is pursuing the effort.

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