Curtis Flowers on 'In the Dark' podcast

Madeleine Baran, left, the host and lead reporter of the podcast “In the Dark,” interviews Curtis Flowers for the first time since his murder charges were dropped. The podcast, which highlighted the many missteps throughout Flowers’ case, has been downloaded more than 40 million times.

Curtis Flowers says he still wonders why he was accused of killing four people in 1996 at Tardy Furniture Co. in Winona.

“I often think about all that I’ve been through, you know, and it’s saddening,” Flowers said in an interview on American Public Media Reports’ investigative podcast “In the Dark.” “There’s still a lot of people that I’m disappointed in. But I find that if I sit around and stress over this and that, it only just makes it worse. You know, so I just try to let it go.”

Flowers was charged with murder in the shooting deaths of Bertha Tardy, the 59-year-old owner of the furniture store, and three employees, 45-year-old Carmen Rigby, 42-year-old Robert Golden and 16-year-old Derrick “Bobo” Stewart. His charges were dropped last month.

On the final episode of the second season of  “In the Dark,” Flowers spoke with Madeleine Baran, the show’s host and lead reporter, whose work helped earn him his freedom.

The case received nationwide attention from the podcast, which has been downloaded more than 40 million times. The investigation most notably highlighted the many legal and racial missteps throughout Flowers’ 23-year legal battle, which took many turns.

Throughout the 2000s, the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned his first three convictions, citing racial discrimination in jury selection. His fourth and fifth trials ended in hung juries.

In 2010, during his sixth trial, he was convicted of all four homicides. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the sixth conviction in 2019, also citing racial bias in jury selection.

Baran and her colleagues received a tip about Flowers’ case more than three years ago and began exploring it.

The podcast interview was the first time Baran could ask Flowers about his experience. Previously, his legal team had advised against communicating with the press.

“Up until now, we’ve been missing the voice of the central figure in this story,” Baran said in a statement before the show aired. “It was incredible to speak face to face with the person whose case we know so well but whose own perspective we haven’t been able to share until now.”

The interview, conducted outside and at a social distance because of COVID-19 safety procedures, was done at an undisclosed location away from Winona to protect Flowers from those seeking any sort of retaliation. “I saw a lot of people in Winona who supported me and everything, but you know, everybody don’t feel that way,” he said.

He said he had no plans to return to live in his hometown.

The reporting team, which conducted extensive jury data analysis, found that the local district attorney’s office, under Doug Evans, had struck Black people from juries more than four times the rate it struck white people.

In December, Flowers was released on bail but was held on house arrest.  

In January, Evans, who prosecuted the six trials, recused himself from the case under pressure and handed it over to Attorney General Lynn Fitch.

Last month, charges were dropped against Flowers, and after he spent more than 20 years in prison — most of it on death row — it was announced that he would not be tried a seventh time.

When Baran asked Flowers whether he had anything to say to Evans, he said no.

“Some things you don’t — just don’t need to be said, you know?” he said. “What’s understood is understood. I feel that Doug was wrong. He knew he was wrong. But as far as a conversation, no.”

Flowers mentioned that he often noted the racial makeup of the jury, saying that whenever he would see the all-white or mostly white group he “chalked it up to Doug (Evans) being good at dirty work.”

Flowers also discussed what his life on death row was like and his oddly earned fame from the podcast.  He said he would receive anywhere from 10 to 14 letters a day after episodes started airing.

“No air conditioning on death row. Nothing but heat, and oh, it got pretty hot in there,” he said. “I’m talking when you’re just sitting (and) constantly sweat, yes. And, you were just praying for rain, because that made things a lot cooler.”

But Flowers said that was only a slight relief because then mosquitoes and rats would venture out into the jail.

He also talked about his relationships with his family and how he felt when the first guilty verdict was read.

“It was like having the air sucked out of you, you know. You can’t breathe,” he said. “I remember one of the deputies said, ‘Your mom wants to speak with you.’ And she told me, ‘Keep your head up, and don’t give up. I know it’s a lie; you know it’s a lie. Don’t give up.’”

His mother, Lola Flowers, died in 2018 at the age of 70 due to complications from surgery. On the podcast, Lola Flowers talked about how devoted she  and her husband, Archie Flowers, were to fighting for their son’s innocence for the last two decades.

Rounding out the 20-episode podcast, the hourlong interview concluded with Flowers singing a gospel song with the line: “I’ve had some good days. I’ve had some hills to climb. I’ve had some weary days and some lonely nights. But when I look around and I think things over. All of my good days outweigh my bad days. And I won’t complain.”

• Contact Adam Bakst at 581-7233 or abakst@gwcommonwealth.com. Twitter: @AdamBakst_GWCW

A phrase in the original version of this article was changed to correct the suggestion that Curtis Flowers was found innocent by the legal system.

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