Local News

Man who spent decades on death row for murders he didn't commit shares story with Duke students

Posted February 18, 2021 6:53 p.m. EST
Updated February 19, 2021 10:57 a.m. EST

— Curtis Flowers sat on death row for more than 20 years for killing four people during a robbery at the furniture store in a small Mississippi town where he once worked. He was tried six times before the U.S. Supreme Court finally overturned his conviction last fall, and the charges were dismissed.

Flowers and his North Carolina attorney, Henderson Hill, talked to Duke University Law School students Thursday about their long fight for justice, which came to national prominence through the podcast "In the Dark."

"Sitting there all those years, it really takes a lot out of you," Flowers said.

There was no physical evidence or credible witnesses connecting Flowers to the 1996 murders of four people in Winona, Miss. Yet, the district attorney kept trying him over and over. Three convictions were overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court, and two others ended in mistrials when the juries deadlocked on a verdict.

"He just focused on me and locked onto me and wouldn't let go," Flowers said of the prosecutor.

After he was convicted in the sixth trial, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the prosecutor had tried to keep Black residents off of the jury and that evidence that could have cleared Flowers was withheld from defense attorneys.

"It really is a story of how the justice system broke down, not by accident, not because there wasn't enough money to pay lawyers to represent an indigent person, but by the deliberate attempt of the prosecution to cheat and violate the law," Hill said.

"To hear [the Supreme Court] had overturned it, I just felt like I could breathe again," Flowers said.

After the high court's ruling, Mississippi's attorney general dismissed the charges against him.

"Curtis' story may get people to open their eyes and their ears," Hill said.

Flowers said he hopes the story can help others who are innocent but sitting in prison seek justice. He started the Curtis Flowers Foundation to help people navigate the criminal justice system and to help young people interested in law get the education they need to pursue these cases.

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