The second season of In the Dark, an investigative podcast from APM Reports, examined the case of Curtis Flowers, a black man who was convicted and sentenced to death for the July 1996 murders of four people at a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi. The case against Flowers was built on questionable and circumstantial evidence. Flowers was tried six times by the same prosecutor, District Attorney Doug Evans. Below are the findings and source notes from our investigation, including links to key documents in the case and source material from other findings that weren't included in the podcast.
APM Reports reviewed the trial transcripts for all six trials of Curtis Flowers, along with related briefs, hearings, exhibits, court orders, appeals, and other documents.
Flowers' sixth trial ended in a conviction and death sentence.
Doug Evans described Flowers as a disgruntled former employee of Tardy Furniture. Evans noted that Flowers had worked at the store for three days earlier that summer. Evans told the jurors that Flowers had been fired and that he'd committed the murders because he was angry at the store's owner, Bertha Tardy.
However, two victims' relatives — Benny Rigby and Frank Ballard — told APM Reports that Flowers wasn't fired from Tardy Furniture; he just stopped showing up for work. This corroborated Flowers' version of events and his repeated statements that he bore no ill will towards Bertha Tardy.
During the sentencing phase of the first trial, Evans told the jurors that Flowers had shot someone when he was a high school student and that Flowers had told the boy, "I'm going to shoot you." The way Evans described the earlier shooting, it sounded intentional.
The person Flowers had shot back in high school, James Douglas, told APM Reports that Flowers never said, "I'm going to shoot you," as Evans claimed in court. Douglas said that he had gone over to Flowers' house one day during school when Flowers' parents weren't home, and Flowers had shown him his father's gun. Flowers started playing with the gun and it went off. "We didn't have no beef," Douglas said.
The police chief of Winona investigated the shooting at the time. The chief said it appeared to be an accident, not intentional. Doug Evans could have known this because that police chief was John Johnson, who, by the time of Flowers' first trial, was working for Evans as an investigator.
APM Reports obtained several public records related to Tardy Furniture and the store's owner, Bertha Tardy. APM Reports obtained the 1985 lease agreement for Tardy Furniture from the Montgomery County Chancery Clerk's office, as well as records of several civil suits filed by Tardy Furniture between 1996 and 1999 from the Montgomery County Justice Court. APM Reports also obtained records related to Tardy Furniture from the Montgomery County Tax Assessor's office.
APM Reports also obtained court records from the Montgomery County Chancery Court regarding the estate of Bertha Tardy.
District Attorney Doug Evans told jurors that he could recreate the route that he said Flowers walked on the morning of the murders. Evans called witnesses who testified to seeing Flowers at different points on the route. Evans presented the witnesses as reliable and credible. However, most of the witnesses hadn't talked to law enforcement until weeks or even months after the murders. APM Reports interviewed many of the route witnesses. Most of them said that they didn't contact law enforcement, but rather that law enforcement had contacted them. Some witnesses told APM Reports that they felt pressured by law enforcement to provide statements. In some interviews, the accounts the route witnesses offered to APM Reports contradicted their trial testimony or statements to law enforcement.
Mary Jeanette Fleming gave a statement to law enforcement on February 13, 1997 — nearly seven months after the murders. Fleming also testified at trial. Fleming told APM Reports that Winona Police Chief Johnny Hargrove came to her job at McDonald's nearly seven months after the murders and told her to go to the police station. Hargrove wouldn't tell her why, she said. "I thought something had happened to one of my kids," Fleming said. She said she ended up in a room with an investigator who asked her about Curtis Flowers. "I just told him I had seen [Flowers] that morning. I didn't want no parts of it anyway."
APM Reports searched for any public records related to Mary Jeanette Fleming. While searching for Montgomery County records stored at the former U.S. Corrulite factory, APM Reports found a record of Fleming being arrested and released in 1984 for alleged shoplifting.
Ed McChristian gave a statement to law enforcement on August 15, 1996 — nearly a month after the murders. McChristian also testified at trial. McChristian told APM Reports that he recalled seeing Flowers walk by his house at some point that summer but had never remembered the exact date. McChristian said that when John Johnson, the D.A.'s investigator, questioned him, Johnson said that he already knew the date that McChristian saw Flowers — and that it was July 16, 1996 — the day of the murders. Johnson said someone had told him that McChristian had seen Flowers but wouldn't disclose who. McChristian told APM Reports that he wouldn't have been able to name an exact date without Johnson supplying one. "I wasn't even really sure," McChristian said. "They had more about it than I did." McChristian told APM Reports that he didn't want to testify at Flowers' trials, but he worried that he might get fined or even put in jail if he refused.
James "Bojack" Kennedy gave a statement to law enforcement on September 17, 1996 — about two months after the murders. Kennedy also testified in five trials. He told APM Reports that his testimony about seeing Flowers walk by his house was true. However, Kennedy also told APM Reports that the terrorist group ISIS operates in Winona. He added that the river in Winona had once suddenly switched directions and started flowing backwards. "They didn't put that in the paper," he said.
APM Reports searched for any public records related to James "Bojack" Kennedy. While searching the former U.S. Corrulite factory for Montgomery County records, APM Reports found several records regarding Kennedy, including a prisoner's jail record from 1989 regarding an alleged concealed weapon.
Danny Joe Lott gave a statement to law enforcement on May 29, 1997 — nearly 11 months after the murders. Lott never testified at trial. Lott told APM Reports that he was outside drinking a beer one day when some officers pulled up and told him to come with them to the police station. "I was scared," Lott said. "I didn't know who they were. I just got in." Lott said he doesn't remember much about what happened back then.
While searching the former U.S. Corrulite factory for Montgomery County records, In the Dark found several records regarding Danny Joe Lott.
Eloise Daniels gave a statement to law enforcement on July 25, 1996, according to handwritten notes from law enforcement turned over by the State as part of the discovery process. The notes appear to say that Daniels said she saw Flowers on the morning of the murders. However, Daniels told APM Reports that she did not see Flowers on the morning of the murders.
Catherine Snow gave several statements to law enforcement, according to documents turned over by the State in the Flowers trials. Snow told law enforcement that she saw a man that morning in a parking lot in Winona — the same parking lot where Doyle Simpson claimed his gun had been stolen. Weeks later, investigators showed Snow a photo lineup to see if she could identify the man. According to law enforcement records, Snow selected a photo of Flowers. Snow declined to talk with APM Reports about her testimony, but she told APM Reports that if Flowers had another trial, she would refuse to testify. "I don't want to be nowhere involved," Snow said.
Porky Collins told law enforcement on July 16, 1996, that he had seen two black men in downtown Winona that morning, according to law enforcement records turned over by the State as part of the Flowers case. More than a month later, on August 24, 1996, law enforcement showed Collins two photo lineups. The first photo lineup included a photo of Doyle Simpson, the man who told law enforcement that his gun had been stolen from his car on the morning of the murders. According to handwritten law enforcement notes, Collins identified the photo of Simpson as looking like one of the men he saw. The second photo lineup included a photo of Curtis Flowers. According to handwritten law enforcement notes, Collins said, regarding the photo of Flowers, "I think that's him." Collins died in 2002.
Vera Latham gave a statement to law enforcement on September 3, 1996, according to documents turned over by the state as part of the Flowers case. In the statement, Latham says she saw Flowers on the morning of the murders. Latham never testified at trial.
Latham's husband, Nat Latham, told APM Reports that his wife would not want to talk. Nat Latham told APM Reports that his wife had felt pressured by law enforcement. "She was under pressure to talk," he said. "They asked her about things she knew nothing about."
Roy Harris gave a statement to law enforcement on May 7, 1997 — nearly 10 months after the murders. Harris told APM Reports that he felt threatened by the D.A.'s investigator, John Johnson. Harris said he was afraid Johnson was going to "have somebody do something to me or something like that, because he was trying to get me all messed up." Harris, who is partially deaf, said Johnson knew "I couldn't hear good, and he was trying to get me in trouble by saying the wrong thing." Harris said he worried that Johnson could lock him up if he didn't cooperate.
Harris told APM Reports that he did not see Flowers on the morning of the murders.
Elaine Ghoston gave a statement to law enforcement on August 11, 1996, according to handwritten notes from law enforcement turned over by the state as part of the Flowers' case. The notes appear to say that Ghoston told law enforcement that she saw Flowers on his porch on the morning of the murders and that Flowers wore Fila Grant Hill shoes. Ghoston has also testified at trial. Ghoston declined to talk with APM Reports.
APM Reports found records at the Montgomery County Circuit Court regarding a bad check for $28.86 written by Ghoston on August 17, 1996. Although the check was written in August 1996, Ghoston wasn't indicted until March 1998, according to court records. Ghoston entered into a "Pre-Trial Intervention Agreement" with D.A. Doug Evans, according to those records.
According to a court filing by assistant district attorney Walter Bleck on February 24, 2000, Ghoston "failed to comply with the terms of the Pretrial Agreement." As a result, Judge Joey Loper ordered on April 3, 2000, that the case be placed on the criminal docket for prosecution. Then, on May 9, 2000, Judge Clarence Morgan dismissed the case at the request of the state, writing that the court had been "advised by the district attorney that the above defendant has successfully paid all restitution, court cost, assessments, and fees."
The next day, May 10, 2000, D.A. Doug Evans gave a check to the Montgomery County Circuit Court clerk for $169.50, according to a clerk's receipt in the Ghoston file.
Beneva Henry gave a statement to law enforcement on September 3, 1996, according to documents turned over by the state as part of the Flowers case. In the statement, Henry says she saw Flowers on the morning of the murders. Henry also testified at trial. She died in 2011.
Bernard Seals gave a statement to law enforcement on August 16, 1996, according to documents turned over by the state as part of the Flowers case. In the statement, Seals says he saw Flowers on the morning of the murders. Seals never testified at trial. He died in 2004.
Clemmie Fleming gave a statement to law enforcement on April 11, 1997 — about eight months after the murders at Tardy Furniture. In the statement, Fleming said she saw Flowers running away from the direction of Tardy Furniture on the morning of the murders. Fleming also testified at trial.
Fleming told APM Reports that she stands by her statement that she saw Flowers that morning, but she also said that even if her story wasn't true, it wouldn't make much difference. "It ain't going help nothing, if I did say it," Fleming said. "It ain't going help nothing, cause they got other people who testified, saying they seen him."
In her interview with APM Reports, Fleming offered some details that differed from what the State has said about her involvement in the case.
According to the State, law enforcement ended up talking to Fleming after Fleming told a white co-worker, Wanda Meeks, that she had seen Flowers on the morning of the murders. Meeks was the one who brought Fleming to law enforcement, according to the state.
Fleming told APM Reports that her cousin was responsible for getting her involved in the case. "I had told my cousin about it — I had seen him [Flowers], but I didn't mean for her to go tell, and have me part of it." Fleming said, "I ain't want her to tell nobody. She, she told somebody, so I kinda blame her for putting me in it."
When asked why she didn't want her cousin to tell anyone, Fleming said, "'Cause I didn't know it was gonna get this, you know, this serious, and I'd have to go to court and, you know, and people criticize you and all that." She added, "I didn't really just know I was gonna be dragged in it. I just, I ain't know it gonna be like this, you know."
Fleming told APM Reports that she would refuse to testify in another Flowers trial. "I don't want to. Ain't nobody gonna force me. I just, I ain't gonna do it."
APM Reports found a 1994 arrest record for Fleming while searching a former jail for records held by the Carroll County Sheriff's Office. APM Reports also found a record of a dismissed case against Fleming in Montgomery County Justice Court.
Patricia Hallmon gave a statement to law enforcement on Aug. 7, 1996, according to an unsigned, handwritten note turned over by the state as part of the discovery process. The note appears to say that Hallmon told law enforcement that on the morning of the murders, Curtis Flowers ran home "like in a rage."
Patricia Hallmon lived next-door to Flowers at the time of the murders. Flowers was living with his girlfriend, Connie Moore, and Moore's children.
At trial, Patricia Hallmon described seeing Flowers several times on the morning of the murders. Hallmon said she first saw Flowers around 4:45 a.m. when she was out for a morning walk. She said Flowers was sitting on his front porch smoking a cigarette. Hallmon testified that she next saw Flowers at about 7:30 a.m. Hallmon said she saw Flowers coming over the hill headed back to his house. A short while later, Hallmon told the jurors, she saw Flowers leave his house again.
APM Reports interviewed Patricia Hallmon at her home in Jackson. Hallmon made several statements that contradicted her testimony at trial. She also talked about her frustrations about being a witness in a case that has gone to trial six times.
"I just wish they would get through with this stuff, and leave this stuff alone and gone to do what they gone to do." Hallmon said. "Because see, I am tired. I'm not going to another trial."
Hallmon was reluctant to discuss her trial testimony. "I don't feel comfortable repeating myself right now because of what you read is what you seen," she said. "And so I wouldn't feel right just sitting here and saying it again, and then you done seen it ... If they have to go to trial and subpoena me, that's the only way I will go back to trial. That's the only way I will go."
The only statement Hallmon made to APM Reports about seeing Flowers on the day of the murders, was: "When I heard it and when I, and I when I heard it and I seen him, I said, damn. I just seen Curtis go over the hill. He went in the house and he didn't stay that long. He came back out. I said I saw him going across the hill. I thought maybe he was going to go to his momma now, because if he go across that hill and then go to that pathway, he go to his momma's house."
Hallmon told APM Reports she can't remember when law enforcement first talked with her about Flowers' possible involvement in the Tardy Furniture murders. "It's been a long time," she said. "I can't tell you when. ... I don't know when they came, when I talked to them, I don't know." But Hallmon said law enforcement didn't talk to her on the day of the murders. "I know they didn't come that day," she said. "You know it was the way up, it was some weeks I believe." Hallmon recalled talking to Evans and his investigator, John Johnson, at some point.
Hallmon told APM Reports that she used to be friends with Flowers and his girlfriend, Connie Moore, who lived next door in July 1996. "We was close," Hallmon said. "I even cooked for them before."
In Flowers' first trial, Patricia Hallmon testified that Flowers "was in a rage" on the morning of the murders. She also testified that she overheard Flowers arguing with his girlfriend a few days before the murders. Hallmon testified, "I heard him say, 'Fuck them. Fuck everybody down there.'" Hallmon told the jurors that Flowers was referring to his job.
However, Hallmon told APM Reports that Flowers never said anything negative about his job.
APM Reports asked Patricia Hallmon, "Did you ever hear him like talk about like hurting people at the store or his job in like a negative way?"
Hallmon said, "No, no, no, no, no, no."
APM Reports asked, "Or like anything negative at work?"
Hallmon said, "No, no, no, I ain't never heard that boy say nothing negative at work. Never."
"Or about work or anything?" APM Reports asked.
"No. No, ma'am," Hallmon said.
APM Reports asked, "What would he talk about, like what was he like?"
Hallmon said, "We were just friends. We would talk about everyday stuff. I see him, 'Hey how are you doing?' 'How are you doing?' 'You look nice today.' You know little stuff. There was no kind of talk about nobody murder nobody, no nothing about his job."
Hallmon said, of Flowers, "He ain't even act like no violent person. The sweetest person you want to know."
Hallmon said she never saw Flowers act violently. "He didn't act like no violent guy around me. No, ma'am. He did not. He acted like the sweetest gentleman. I'm talking about a lovable, sweet gentleman. He ain't act like no bad person around me. Nah, he treated me with respect all the time."
APM Reports asked Hallmon whether she thinks Flowers committed the murders. "I can't say," Hallmon said. "You know I'm not going to answer that question because I don't know and I'm not going to say that he did or he didn't do [it]. I let the jury do that."
At trial, Patricia Hallmon provided critical testimony about the Fila Grant Hill shoes that Evans said Flowers wore at the crime scene. (A set of bloody shoe prints found at Tardy Furniture provided one of the few pieces of possible physical evidence in the case.)
Hallmon testified that she saw Flowers wearing Fila Grant Hill shoes on the day of the murders. Hallmon told the jurors in Flowers' first trial that she never saw anyone else wearing Fila Grant Hill shoes at that house.
This testimony was important not only because it helped the state prove that Flowers wore Fila Grant Hill shoes, but also because law enforcement had found an empty shoebox for Fila Grant Hill shoes at the home where Flowers lived with his girlfriend and her children. Flowers' defense told the jurors that the shoebox belonged to Flowers' girlfriend's son — and that the boy had outgrown the shoes and thrown them out. But the state told the jurors that the shoebox belonged to Flowers.
However, Patricia Hallmon told APM Reports that two of the children at Flowers' house also wore Fila Grant Hill shoes.
Hallmon told APM Reports that she remembers going to a store with Flowers' girlfriend, Connie Moore, to buy shoes for their children. "Me and Connie used to go shopping, buy our children certain stuff and certain tennis shoes and stuff — because our kids wore the best tennis shoes," Hallmon told APM Reports. "Me and Connie went to the store that day. We the ones bought the shoes. Yeah, my children had a pair."
APM Reports asked whether Connie was buying shoes for her children or for Flowers. Hallmon said, "She didn't buy them for him," referring to Flowers. "I don't know where he gets his from. She was buying her children some."
At trial, Hallmon testified that her children didn't wear adult size shoes. But Hallmon told APM Reports, "My children had big feet. They had, they had to wear big shoes. They had to wear adult shoes back then. They couldn't wear the little shoes." Hallmon said Connie's boys also had "big feet."
Hallmon said she paid attention to shoes back then because she wanted her children to have the best shoes. She said a friend helped her afford to buy Fila Grant Hill shoes for her children. "Because they were a hundred dollars, that was a hundred, up to ninety to a hundred dollars [for a] pair of shoes," she said. "Those were some expensive shoes. Back then everybody wore them."
Hallmon said lots of people wore Fila Grant Hills back then. She called them "the number one shoe." She said, "Everybody and their momma and their daddy wore Fila." Hallmon said she didn't wear Filas, though. "I had some Nikes or something."
Hallmon told APM Reports that Curtis Flowers didn't have just one pair of shoes. "He wore all kinds," she said. "He was nice. He dressed nice. Respectable."
Curtis Flowers "wore Sunday shoes and tennis shoes," Hallmon said. "He went to church. He wear his church shoes. And he wore his tennis shoes. Most of the time he had tennis shoes."
Hallmon told APM Reports that she doesn't know how many kinds of shoes Flowers had. "Now look, I'm not his woman, I am not in his house," she said. "I just know he had tennis shoes."
APM Reports asked if Flowers had more than one pair of tennis shoes. Hallmon said, "Yeah, he did. He didn't wear them all the time. I'm sure he did have another pair, you know? But I don't know all that. I don't know how many pairs he had. I don't know all of that."
Patricia Hallmon also talked to APM Reports about her brother, Odell "Cookie" Hallmon. She said she doesn't know if her brother Odell got anything in exchange for his involvement in the Flowers case. "I wasn't there," she said. "I don't know what they did, and what they had going on."
Hallmon said she wasn't offered a reward for her testimony and didn't get anything in exchange for her statements. However, she said, "If they want to give me something, I'll take it," she said.
Hallmon described Doug Evans as "real nice." Hallmon said, "I give him all respect. And he is, excuse my language, a damn good lawyer."
APM Reports also reviewed Patricia Hallmon's criminal record. In Flowers' appeal, his attorneys have argued that the state failed to disclose information about Patricia Hallmon's criminal record.
In February 2010, four months before she testified at Curtis Flowers' sixth trial, Patricia Hallmon was indicted on 16 counts of federal tax fraud. She was convicted by a jury on eight of those counts and sentenced the following year. At her sentencing hearing, the judge said he had received a letter from District Attorney Doug Evans on Hallmon's behalf. The content of that letter is unknown — it was sealed by the court and a later motion to unseal it, filed by Flowers' attorneys, was denied.
At Hallmon's sentencing hearing, Hallmon's lawyer, Kevin Horan — a former assistant district attorney for Doug Evans — asked the judge to consider Hallmon's valuable role as a prosecution witness in the Flowers case. "The first person that came forward on behalf of the state or gave any information that led to the eventual conviction of Mr. Flowers was this lady right here," Horan said. According to the documents turned over by the D.A.'s office in the Flowers case, this statement is incorrect. By the time Hallmon provided her statement, several other people had already talked to law enforcement.
APM Reports also located separate public records about Patricia Hallmon at the Montgomery County Justice Court. According to those records, law enforcement had accused Hallmon several times of writing bad checks. In 1998, Hallmon pleaded guilty to three charges of "false pretense," according to the records. In 2002, an arrest warrant had been issued for Hallmon in relation to another alleged bad check charge.
Several people told APM Reports that law enforcement had suggested they could get reward money for offering statements that would implicate Flowers in the murders.
Latarsha Blissett told APM Reports that officers showed up at her high school in 1996 and told her that she needed to come with them. "I was scared," Blissett said, "but it was the police." Blissett told APM Reports that she was taken to a police station and questioned about Flowers. She said the investigators brought up money. "Asked me, was I was trying to buy a mobile home?" Blissett said. "Asked me if I knew what $30,000 could buy, if, you know, you trying to get a mobile home, do you know what this amount of money could buy?"
Blissett said that although the investigators implied that she could get money, they never directly said that if she connected Flowers to the crime, she would get a reward. "But every time they were asking me something, they always would ask me, do I know what this certain amount of money could do. ... So I did pick up on that," she said. Blissett said she told the officers that she had no information that would implicate Flowers in the murders.
There have been several fires in Winona that either have no official cause or have not been investigated.
On February 13, 1974, J.J. Knox School burned to the ground. The public school had been integrated by a court order. Many people in Winona believe the fire was set intentionally by a person or a group of people who were upset about school integration. APM Reports obtained public records on the fire from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
On February 20, 1999, the home of Flowers' parents, Archie and Lola Flowers, burned down. APM Reports obtained public records on the fire from the Winona Fire Department and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
The home of Pastor Nelson Forrest burned down on July 25, 2018 — four days after he delivered the eulogy at the funeral for Flowers' mother, Lola Flowers. In his eulogy, Pastor Forrest urged people not to be afraid to stand up for Flowers. APM Reports obtained a public record on the fire from the Winona Fire Department.
D.A. Doug Evans told jurors that even though the murder weapon had never been found, he knew which gun it was. Evans said the gun had belonged to a relative of Flowers' — a man named Doyle Simpson — and that Flowers had stolen the gun, a .380, from Simpson's car on the morning of the murders.
A firearms examiner named David Balash testified that he matched bullets found at Tardy Furniture to bullets found in Simpson's mother's yard. Balash told jurors that his analysis showed that they had all come from the same gun. Evans used Balash's testimony to convince jurors that Simpson's gun was the murder weapon.
The ballistics evidence in the case was based on visual comparisons and is largely subjective. There are no scientific standards for matching a bullet to a gun. And there is no credible science that shows that every gun leaves its own unique mark on bullets.
Balash told APM Reports that he stands by his testimony. "I am 100 percent certain that these bullets were fired from one gun," he said. He described the field of ballistics this way: "You want to make it a science. And it has never been called a science. It's been always called an art form using scientific materials and equipment, and it's always been an opinion." When asked what made him 100 percent certain about his findings in the Flowers case, Balash said, "The fact that I've been doing this for an awful long time, and I know what an identification looks like. And what you have to do is, when you're looking at these, you have to get to the point as a firearms examiner to convince yourself that there's no other gun on the face of the Earth that could have left these marks. And that's what I do." When asked how he does that, Balash said, "Well you have to do mental gymnastics, I suspect."
In 2001, five years after the murders, Jeffery Armstrong found a .380 pistol under his mother's house, just about 700 feet from Tardy Furniture, and turned it over to local cops.
Winona Police Captain Dan Herod confirmed to APM Reports that Armstrong turned a gun over to police. Herod said another officer went to get the gun from Armstrong and then gave it to the D.A.'s office. Herod said someone from the D.A.'s office — he thinks it was John Johnson — sent the gun to the state crime lab. Herod said the gun didn't come back to the police station after that. "When something like that happens over in the D.A.'s office that's investigating, we don't store any of it," he said. "We don't have the evidence. It would go to the D.A.'s office. They have it."
Winona Police Chief Tommy Bibbs confirmed to APM Reports that a gun had been recovered from Armstrong. Chief Bibbs said the gun was turned over to the D.A.'s office and sent to the state crime lab. He said the police department no longer has the gun.
A lawyer for the state Department of Public Safety told APM Reports that the agency has no record of the gun being at the Mississippi Crime Lab.
Doyle Simpson, the man who told law enforcement that his gun had been stolen, was an early suspect in the case.
Law enforcement talked to Simpson several times as part of the investigation of the murders at Tardy Furniture. Law enforcement also talked to other people about Simpson, including Ike Williams, the man who allegedly sold the gun to Simpson; Kawill Jones, a friend of Simpson; and Robert Campbell, a relative of Simpson who told law enforcement that Simpson had asked him to lie to investigators about the gun.
Williams and Jones are dead. APM Reports talked to Campbell, who confirmed that Simpson told him to lie about the gun.
APM Reports also compiled criminal and civil records regarding Doyle Simpson from Montgomery and Carroll counties.
Three jailhouse informants have testified that Flowers confessed to committing the Tardy murders. All three have since recanted. D.A. Doug Evans has told the Court that none of the informants received anything in exchange for their statements.
The first two informants, Frederick Veal and Maurice Hawkins, both gave statements to law enforcement in 1997, and both testified at Flowers' first trial.
Veal gave his statement on March 11, 1997, according to a document turned over by the state as part of the Flowers case. Veal had been facing a charge of grand larceny in 1997, but, according to available records, the charge appears to have been dropped that same day, after Veal's sister signed a document on Leflore County Sheriff's Office letterhead requesting that her brother not be prosecuted.
APM Reports compiled Veal's criminal record. We gathered 404 pages of records from the Greenwood Police Department, Leflore County Sheriff's Office and Leflore County Circuit Court in Mississippi, the Clayton County Sheriff's Office in Georgia, and corrections departments in both states.
Hawkins gave statements to law enforcement on July 3, 1997 and November 19, 1998, according to documents turned over by the state as part of the Flowers case. Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks signed a handwritten statement on July 3, 1997, detailing his account of what Hawkins said Flowers had told him.
APM Reports compiled Hawkins' criminal record from the Greenwood Police Department, Leflore County Sheriff's Office and Leflore County Circuit Court in Mississippi, the Harris County Sheriff's Office in Texas, and corrections departments in Mississippi and Texas.
Both Veal and Hawkins later recanted their testimony. Veal signed an affidavit in 2016 as part of Flowers' post-conviction efforts. Hawkins signed a similar affidavit for Flowers' defense in 2015. Hawkins died in 2016.
Veal told APM Reports that Sheriff Banks put him in a cell with Flowers in 1997 to try to extract a confession. Veal said Banks told him, "If you can get some information out of him that he did that murder, I'll let you go." Veal said Flowers didn't confess. A few days later, according to the affidavit Veal submitted to the defense, Veal met with Banks and Evans, and they gave him details of the crime and helped him create a false story about Flowers confessing. "Most of that stuff is stuff they put together," Veal told APM Reports. He said Evans promised him reward money if he testified at trial, but said Evans never gave him the money.
Law enforcement interviewed at least four other inmates in 1997 who shared a cell with Flowers who said they never heard Flowers confess. Those men are Homer Hughes, Carlton Bennett, Timothy Haymore, and Morgan McClurg.
A third informant, Odell "Cookie" Hallmon, came forward in 2001 to say that Flowers had confessed to him in prison.
Prior to that, Hallmon had been a defense witness, testifying that his sister, Patricia, had lied on the stand. Hallmon had sent a curious letter to Flowers' attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, that was written on paper that appeared to have been burned on the edges, like a scroll.
In 2001, Hallmon switched sides. He became a State's witness. He recorded two videos with law enforcement on May 7, 2001. He also wrote a letter to Evans. In the videos, Hallmon does not say that Flowers confessed to him. However, in the letter, he does. It's not clear when the letter was written.
Hallmon testified against Flowers in four trials, including the most recent trial in 2010. Hallmon was the state's star witness. His testimony provided the only direct evidence against Flowers.
APM Reports compiled Hallmon's criminal record from city, county and state law enforcement agencies, courts, archives, and other agencies in Mississippi. APM Reports obtained records from the police departments in Winona, Vaiden and Greenwood, the sheriff's offices in Montgomery, Carroll and Leflore counties, the chancery, justice and circuit court clerks in Carroll and Montgomery counties, the Montgomery County Emergency Operations Center, the Carroll-Montgomery County Regional Correctional Facility and the Mississippi Department of Corrections. APM Reports also gathered information on Hallmon from local newspapers. After months of reporting, APM Reports had gathered 508 pages of public records on Hallmon.
APM Reports found that Hallmon has a lengthy criminal record that includes aggravated assault, drug dealing, weapons possession, and murder, among other charges.
APM Reports located records that showed Hallmon was facing four possible charges in 2001 when he gave his statement to law enforcement about Flowers. After Hallmon gave the statement, an armed robbery charge was dismissed and two cocaine-related charges seemed to just go away — Hallmon wasn't indicted for either of them. Hallmon pleaded guilty to the remaining charge — possession of firearm by a felon — and spent a year in prison.
Hallmon continued to be treated with leniency in the years after he became a witness for the prosecution. Brad Carver, the warden of the Grenada County Jail who knew Hallmon from his time as a sheriff's deputy, told APM Reports, "I think he had a lot of pull because he was like an eyewitness or something dealing with the Tardy Furniture murders ... that helped him a lot out of some stuff." For example: In May 2005, Hallmon was facing five charges in two drug-dealing cases, including being charged as a "habitual offender." He could have received 46 years in prison. Instead, he cut a generous plea deal with Doug Evans' office and was released from prison after a little more than 8 years.
In April 2014, Hallmon tried to run over a sheriff's deputy with his car. Hallmon was indicted for aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, but Doug Evans' office agreed to delay the case twice and to release Hallmon on $25,000 bail. While out on bail, Hallmon went on a killing spree. He murdered his ex-girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend's mother, and a man in Winona. He also fired at his 12-year-old son and shot another man five times.
Just 14 days after his 2016 killing spree, Odell Hallmon pleaded guilty to three counts of murder, one count of aggravated assault and an illegal firearm charge. He received three life sentences. Law enforcement never found the gun Hallmon used in the killings. District Attorney Doug Evans had little communication with the victims' relatives, some of whom were hoping for a death sentence. On the day of the plea, Evans told them that Hallmon had immediately regretted what he'd done. But Montgomery County records from the night of the killings indicate otherwise. As a sheriff's deputy was handcuffing him, Hallmon had asked "if they were all dead." When the deputy told Hallmon that at least one of the victims had been killed, Hallmon said, "Good." When the deputy revealed that a different victim wasn't dead, Hallmon said, "He should be."
APM Reports interviewed Hallmon nine times. Hallmon told APM Reports that he lied under oath in the Flowers trials. Flowers had never confessed to the murders, he said. "As far as him telling me he killed some people, hell, naw, he ain't ever told me that," Hallmon said. "That was a lie. I don't know nothing about this shit. It was all make believe. Everything was all make believe on my part."
Hallmon said he received leniency from Evans. "I helped them. They helped me. That what's it's all boiled down to," he said.
James Bibbs served as a juror in Flowers' fifth trial. He voted not guilty. Bibbs' not-guilty vote led Judge Joey Loper to declare a mistrial. Judge Loper then accused Bibbs of perjury and had him arrested in the courtroom. Bibbs was later indicted by a grand jury, but the charges were dropped. Bibbs' lawyer, Rob McDuff, told APM Reports that it was clear from the court record that Bibbs did not commit perjury. Bibbs told APM Reports that he told the truth.
District Attorney Doug Evans has brought the case of Curtis Flowers to trial six times. Evans has been in office for 26 years. He was elected district attorney of the Fifth Circuit Court of Mississippi in 1991 and has won re-election ever since. Evans has run unopposed in all but one of those re-elections.
The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned Flowers' first three convictions, citing prosecutorial misconduct. In the first two appeals, the Court found Evans had misstated the facts and asked improper questions not in good faith. In the appeal of Flowers' third conviction, the Mississippi Supreme Court found that Evans had violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by striking black people from the jury in Flowers' third trial because of their race.
The circuit court judge in Flowers' second trial had also found that Evans struck a black juror because of his race. Judge Clarence Morgan did not allow Evans to strike the juror, and the man was seated on the jury.
An extensive investigation and analysis by APM Reports found that during Doug Evans' tenure, Evans' office has been much more likely to use strikes in jury selection against African Americans. In 225 trials from 1992 through 2017, Evans and his assistants struck black prospective jurors at 4.4 times the rate they struck white prospective jurors. His office struck 50 percent of eligible black jurors and only 11 percent of white ones.
APM reports found complete jury selection transcripts for 89 of those 225 trials during Evans' tenure. With those transcripts, reporters could see two critical factors together: the race of a prospective juror and his or her answers to questions posed by lawyers and judges in jury selection. APM Reports then conducted a logistic regression analysis to determine which factors best predicted whether a particular juror was struck. APM Reports found that race was a powerful predictor of whether someone would end up on a jury. When other factors were the same — when jurors answered questions the same way — white people were far more likely to be chosen for the jury than black people.
During his 1991, 1995 and 2003 campaigns to be district attorney, Evans spoke at a political rally in Black Hawk, Mississippi, which raised funds to bus children to mostly white private schools founded after integration. Evans also spoke before a local branch of a group called the Council of Conservative Citizens. The group's statement of principles says they "oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind."
A court found that Doug Evans' office had failed to turn over Brady material in the case of Bobby Joe Townsend, a black man who had been convicted of raping an elderly woman at a nursing home in 1998. The conviction was overturned when Townsend's new attorney, Rob McDuff, found that the state had failed to turn over evidence that indicated no rape had occurred. Townsend was found not guilty in a second trial, and he was released from prison. Townsend filed a civil suit against the State of Mississippi alleging that he had been wrongly imprisoned, and the state provided $83,333 in compensation.
Law enforcement interviewed Curtis Flowers several times, including on the day of the murders at Tardy Furniture. Investigators tested Flowers' hands for evidence of gunshot residue. Investigators also searched the home where Flowers lived with his girlfriend, Connie Moore, and her children.
Flowers had worked at Tardy Furniture for a few days earlier that summer. Investigators found Flowers' paycheck on the desk of Bertha Tardy while searching Tardy Furniture after the murders, according to law enforcement accounts.
According to the available documents from the law enforcement investigation, the first person who mentioned Curtis Flowers to law enforcement was Tom Tardy. His wife, Bertha, owned Tardy Furniture and was one of the four people killed at the store on July 16, 1996. Investigators also talked with Bertha Tardy's daughter, Roxanne Ballard, according to available records.
Flowers was arrested in Texas in January 1997 after investigators Wayne Miller and John Johnson provided an affidavit to the court alleging Flowers committed the murders. Flowers signed a waiver of extradition proceedings on January 15, 1997, and was brought back to Mississippi. A grand jury indicted Flowers in March 1997.
The D.A.'s investigator, John Johnson, previously worked as a police officer in Grenada and Winona. He was first hired at the Winona Police Department in 1972, after having completed a five-week course at the state law enforcement academy.
APM Reports obtained records from the National Archives connected to a 1977 federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Johnson, the mayor of Winona and the city's board of aldermen. The suit alleged that Johnson, in the course of arresting a man named Lonnie Blaylock for public drunkenness, punched, choked and kicked Blaylock in the head. In a deposition, Johnson described knocking Blaylock to the ground with a closed fist and stepping on his chest.
A month after the incident, Johnson left the Winona Police Department. Asked why by Blaylock's attorney, Johnson said, "Well, it seemed to me that law enforcement was just too much of a hassle." The City of Winona settled the suit for $1,000. Johnson returned to the Winona Police Department in 1979 and rose through the ranks to become police chief. He remained at the department until Doug Evans hired him as an investigator after being elected district attorney in 1991.
The criminal investigative file turned over by the D.A.'s office to Flowers' lawyers is incomplete and appears, in places, to be inaccurate. For example, there is no police report of the murders. Many interviews weren't recorded, and some of the investigation was documented only in handwritten notes — often just a few lines or phrases — written by the D.A.'s investigator John Johnson.
In all, 17 people told APM Reports that Johnson's notes about what they'd said to him were incorrect in various ways. Many of those notes mentioned statements that people had allegedly made about Flowers wearing Fila Grant Hill shoes. In one case, Johnson's notes indicate that a man named Jerry Ghoston told him that Flowers had talked about having a pistol. Ghoston told APM Reports that he never said that to Johnson. He said Flowers never told him he had a pistol.
Former Winona Police Officer Kenny Townsend told APM Reports that he wrote a police report the day of the murders. Townsend said he doesn't know what happened to his report. APM Reports requested the report from the Winona Police Department. The department's clerk and the police chief said they had no such report.
Winona Police Chief Tommy Bibbs told APM Reports he didn't think that the police department had any documents related to the Tardy Furniture case. However, he allowed APM Reports to examine the department's box of records from 1996 and several piles of other records just to make sure.
While conducting that search at the Winona Police Department, APM Reports found one document directly related to the Tardy Furniture murders. APM Reports found no mention of this document in the court records of the Flowers case. The document is a letter to Winona Police Chief Johnny Hargrove from Sandra K. Morrison, who identifies herself as a "Victim Compensation Program Director" for the State of Mississippi. In the letter, dated Dec. 26, 1996, Morrison tells the police chief that Tom Tardy, Jr., has filed a claim with the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Program "for expenses related to the crime committed against" Bertha Tardy, his wife.
In the letter, Morrison asks the police chief to provide "all investigative reports, continuation sheets, witness statements and any other supplementary information."
APM Reports tried to determine whether the victim compensation program had received any documents from the investigation of the Tardy Furniture murders. We contacted the Mississippi Attorney General's Office, which now oversees the state's victim compensation program, but spokesperson Margaret Ann Morgan told APM Reports that she wasn't authorized to release information about individual claims. APM Reports was unable to reach Morrison.
APM Reports also found National Crime Information Center (NCIC) reports at the Winona Police Department from the days and weeks after the murders at Tardy Furniture. According to the reports, the D.A.'s investigator, John Johnson, requested criminal information from the NCIC on or shortly after July 22, 1996 about a man named Joe Purnell — a Winona resident who was involved with a gang in the area at the time. Purnell was shot and killed in July 1997. None of the NCIC reports reviewed by In the Dark mentioned Curtis Flowers.
Evans told jurors that all the evidence pointed to one person — Curtis Flowers — and not to anyone else. At trial, Evans and investigators said that Flowers was the only main suspect from the beginning of the investigation. Evans' office turned over a single sheet of paper to Flowers' lawyers that appeared to be from a July 21, 1996 interrogation of another man — Willie James Hemphill — but in the courtroom, investigators testified that they had little memory of Hemphill. They said Hemphill had been questioned briefly and eliminated as a suspect quickly. John Johnson, Evans' investigator, told the jury, "I think they talked to him for five minutes." Jack Matthews, a Mississippi Highway Patrol investigator, testified, "I think we pretty much ruled him out from the get-go."
APM Reports talked to another man named Willie James Hemphill, who said that officers in several squad cars from multiple agencies raced down his driveway in Greenwood, Miss., shortly after the murders. The man said the officers left after they realized he wasn't the Hemphill they were looking for. The mother of the right Hemphill told APM Reports that officers had knocked on her door in Memphis, Tenn. in the days after the murders at Tardy Furniture, looking for her son.
APM Reports located the correct Willie James Hemphill in Indianapolis and interviewed him on June 13, 2018 and June 15, 2018. Hemphill told APM Reports that he was a suspect in the murders at Tardy Furniture. He said he turned himself in at the jail in Winona after his parents told him that officers were looking to question him about the murders. Hemphill said investigators talked to him about the murders for hours. Hemphill said the investigators seemed particularly interested in his shoes — a pair of Fila Grant Hill basketball shoes that he said he was wearing when he turned himself in. Hemphill said the investigators took the shoes and photographed them before returning them. Hemphill said the investigators told him that several people had reported seeing him on Front Street, close to Tardy Furniture, on the day of the murders. Hemphill said the investigators recorded the interrogation and took notes and fingerprinted him. Hemphill told APM Reports that he didn't commit the murders.
APM Reports found documentation of Hemphill's time in jail. APM Reports found a "prisoner's jail record" card in the former U.S. Corrulite factory in Winona showing that Hemphill had been arrested by Winona police officers on July 21, 1996 — five days after the murders at Tardy Furniture. In addition, a Montgomery County jail docket record provided to APM Reports by Sheriff Bubba Nix shows that Hemphill was arrested on a city warrant on July 21, 1996, and released on August 1.
Hemphill has an extensive criminal record, including drug dealing, robbery, stabbing and assault. On occasion, he carried a gun. He once used it to pistol-whip a woman outside a supermarket in 1991.
APM Reports obtained public records on Hemphill in Mississippi, from the Winona Police Department, Kilmichael Police Department, Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, Montgomery County Chancery, Justice, and Circuit court clerks, Grenada County Jail, the Office of the District Attorney of the Fifth Circuit Court District and the Mississippi Department of Corrections; in Tennessee, from the Memphis Police Department, Shelby County Sheriff's Office, Shelby County General Sessions Criminal Court and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; and in Indiana, from the Indianapolis Police Department, Marion Police Department, Marion County Sheriff's Office, Grant County Sheriff's Office, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, Huntington County Sheriff’s Office, Marion City Court, Center Township Small Claims Court of Marion County, Indiana, the superior courts of Marion, Grant, Hamilton and Huntington counties, the Indiana State Police and the Indiana Department of Correction. APM Reports also obtained a lawsuit filed by Hemphill from the Federal Records Center. To date, APM Reports has gathered 1,705 pages of public records on Hemphill.
In the 1990s, Hemphill lived at times on the east side of Winona, not far from where Jeffery Armstrong said he later found a .380 pistol.
APM Reports found that, during jury selection for hundreds of criminal trials over the past 26 years, District Attorney Doug Evans and his assistants struck black prospective jurors at 4.4 times the rate they struck white prospective jurors. To conduct this analysis, "In the Dark" reporters reviewed decades' worth of court dockets to compile a list of every trial prosecuted by Evans' office since 1992. They then collected the records of these trials at eight courthouses in Mississippi's Fifth Circuit Court District, as well as the state Supreme Court and the state archives in Jackson.
Below are the files for all 418 trials used in APM Reports' analysis, including trial transcripts when they were available. APM Reports has redacted limited information from these records, including social security numbers, and names and identifying information about minor victims of crime and victims of sex crimes.