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Death penalty upheld in Mississippi furniture store slayings


Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press



JACKSON -- The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday again affirmed the death sentence for a man convicted of killing four people at a furniture store where he previously worked, with a majority of justices saying they found no racial prejudice in the way jurors were chosen. 


Curtis Giovanni Flowers, now 47, has been tried six times in the July 16, 1996, fatal shootings in Winona, a town of about 5,000 residents that's roughly 90 miles north of Jackson. Tardy Furniture Store owner Bertha Tardy and three of her employees, Robert Golden, Carmen Rigby and Derrick Stewart, were each shot in the head. 


Flowers told investigators he worked at Tardy Furniture a few days and had been fired July 6, 1996. Court records show that police said Flowers gave inconsistent accounts of where he was the day of the killings. He said he was babysitting his girlfriend's children when the killings took place. 


Flowers moved to Texas in September 1996, then was arrested and brought back to Mississippi, where he was indicted in March 1997. 


Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death in the first three trials, but those were overturned because of mistakes by prosecutors. The first trial, in 1997, was only for the killing of Tardy. The second trial, in 1999, was only for the killing of Stewart. The third, in 2004, was for all four killings. 


Jurors couldn't agree on a verdict in the fourth and fifth trials. 


At the sixth trial, in 2010, Flowers was convicted in all four killings and sentenced to death. The state Supreme Court upheld that conviction in 2014. 


Then, in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court told state justices to review whether there was discrimination in how some black people were excluded as potential jurors in the sixth trial of Flowers, who is black. 


Tardy, Rigby and Stewart were white, and Golden was black. 


"Flowers claims that the questioning of African-American and white jurors was so 'starkly different' that the questioning led to purposeful discrimination. ... However, evidence of disparate questioning alone is not dispositive of racial discrimination," state Justice Josiah Coleman wrote for the majority in the ruling released Thursday. Five justices agreed with the ruling, and four disagreed. 


Justice Leslie King, who disagreed, wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the Mississippi Supreme Court because a majority of federal justices believed "that a reasonable probability exists that this Court got it wrong on the first try. Yet, this Court ignores that strong implication and makes the same erroneous decision." 


No execution date has been set.




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