There are two separate, side-by-side efforts unfolding to prevent Curtis Flowers from being executed. One is a direct appeal of his conviction, and the other is a request for post-conviction relief. It's quite possible that new information discovered by reporters for "In the Dark" could make a difference in the outcomes of both.
The "In the Dark" findings most likely to be significant are the revelation that the state's only piece of direct evidence was a lie — that Odell Hallmon has said his testimony about Flowers’ confession was false and that he provided it in exchange for leniency from Doug Evans on his own crimes; that Willie James Hemphill was pursued as an alternate suspect in the days after the Tardy Furniture murders and that prosecutors may have failed to turn over records about it; and that an exhaustive jury analysis by APM Reports found that in Evans' 26-year tenure as district attorney, his office has struck black prospective jurors at 4.4 times the rate it struck white ones.
Flowers' lawyers are working on a direct appeal of the guilty verdict in his sixth trial, in June 2010. The effort, now eight years old, is in its final stage. In 2014, the Mississippi Supreme Court — which had shifted to the right since it reversed Flowers' third conviction in 2007 — upheld his conviction.
In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the state's 2014 decision and ordered the Mississippi Supreme Court to consider the case again in light of a recent SCOTUS ruling in Foster v. Chatman, which dealt with race in jury selection. In 2017, the Mississippi Supreme Court reviewed the case a second time and upheld the conviction again.
In a final attempt to get the conviction overturned on direct appeal, Flowers' attorneys are presenting their case once more to the U.S. Supreme Court. In June, they filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, which asks the High Court to look at the case again. In their brief, Flowers' lawyers point to Doug Evans' record of using race in jury selection and cite Odell Hallmon's statements to "In the Dark" that his testimony in Flowers' trials was false.
Unlike a direct appeal, which looks at the record of the trial itself and argues that errors were made in court, the purpose of a post-conviction petition is to bring forward facts that weren’t known at the time of the original verdict. There are important procedural differences between an appeal and a post-conviction petition, but, broadly speaking, their goals are the same: to prove that Flowers’ conviction was unfair and should be overturned.
Flowers has a different team of lawyers working on his post-conviction appeal. They have filed a petition arguing that he has a dozen "grounds for relief," each with its own points and subpoints. The claims run the gamut from ineffective assistance of defense counsel to prosecutors' history of using race in jury selection, allegations of false testimony by investigators, recent scientific findings that discredit the testimony of the state's ballistics and shoeprint experts, and failures by Doug Evans' office to turn over certain things: evidence about alternate suspects, and the fact that Odell Hallmon's sister, Patricia, was indicted for tax fraud just before she testified as a state's witness in Flowers' sixth trial.
This post-conviction petition was filed in 2016, following the Mississippi Supreme Court's first denial of Flowers' direct appeal, and it's been on hold since then while his direct appeal has continued to wind through the courts. But the post-conviction effort has developed in the weeks since the second season of "In the Dark" began.
On June 7, Flowers' post-conviction attorneys filed a motion to amend their original 2016 petition. They want more time to investigate newly discovered facts. In a subsequent filing, they cited reporting by "In the Dark" that Odell Hallmon said he lied on the stand, an admission that severely undercuts the case the state presented at Flowers' sixth trial.
And just last Thursday, June 28, Flowers' attorneys added to their original motion, arguing that "stunning new evidence has come to light." They wrote: "On June 26, [the day 'In the Dark' Episode 10 was released, we] learned that in 1996, the State interviewed, arrested, and held an alternative suspect in the Tardy murders, Willie James Hemphill." Flowers' attorneys cite Episode 10 to argue that evidence pointing away from Flowers' guilt was withheld from the defense, specifically mentioning that Hemphill was booked into jail in Winona wearing Fila Grant Hill shoes and was held for 11 days.
"The new evidence coming to light strikes at the heart of Mr. Flowers's conviction and demonstrates a pattern of prosecutorial misconduct," according to the filing. To be entitled to a new trial, his attorneys write, "[Flowers] need only show that introduction of this evidence at trial would have undermined confidence in the outcome of the trial."
Doug Evans recently told a local newspaper, The Greenwood Commonwealth, that he hasn't heard the podcast — "I haven't listened to it and I don't intend to," he said. Nevertheless, attorneys for the state have opposed Flowers' efforts to expand his post-conviction filing to include these new discoveries. Whether it's amended or not, Flowers' post-conviction appeal is just beginning and could have a long path ahead.