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Curtis Flowers' Charges Dropped After More Than Two Decades Of Murder Trials

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Prosecutors have dropped all charges against Curtis Flowers. He's a Black man in Mississippi who was tried six times for the same crime by the same white prosecutor. He spent nearly 23 years in prison - much of it on death row - for murdering four people in a small-town furniture store. The case of Curtis Flowers was the subject of Season 2 of "In The Dark." Samara Freemark is the managing producer of that podcast. She joins us now. Thanks for being with us.

SAMARA FREEMARK: Thanks so much for having me. It's good to be here.

SIMON: Curtis Flowers was already out of prison. So what happened yesterday?

FREEMARK: Right. So Curtis' most recent conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court last year, and he was actually released on bail last December. So since then, he's been on house arrest. And he's just been waiting to hear if he'd be tried a seventh time for these murders. But yesterday, the Mississippi attorney general dropped all charges against Curtis. And so after all these years, this case is finally over, and Curtis is a free man.

SIMON: The attorney general's motion to dismiss cited evidence uncovered by your podcast. Tell us more about that, please.

FREEMARK: Yes. We talked to key witnesses who told us they had lied on the stand or that they had been pressured by law enforcement. We discovered an alternate suspect in the case who had never been disclosed to jurors. We found that the ballistics evidence in the case relied on junk science. And the state's star witness, who was a jailhouse informant who said that Curtis had confessed to him, told us that he had just made that whole thing up.

SIMON: Yet Curtis Flowers was tried six times. I don't understand how a man can be tried six times for the same crime.

FREEMARK: Right. We get this question a lot because people think about double jeopardy. Right? But double jeopardy only applies if you've been acquitted. And Curtis has actually never been acquitted. So what would happen is he would be convicted by a jury, and then he would appeal. Higher courts would find that the prosecutor who, throughout all of these six trials, was a white district attorney named Doug Evans - courts would find that Evans had committed misconduct. They would overturn the case, but then Evans would just retry the case. And it just became this seemingly unending cycle that went on for years and years.

One of the most egregious forms of misconduct that the higher courts found over these years was that Doug Evans made repeated attempts to keep Black people off of the juries that tried Curtis Flowers. And our team actually did a really big data analysis of what Evans' office was doing in jury selection in all of its cases, not just in the Flowers case. And we found that there was a pattern of Black people in Evans' district being prevented from serving on juries for decades.

SIMON: And that issue, racism in jury selection, ultimately led the Supreme Court to reverse the most recent convictions of Mr. Flowers. Did you get a chance to speak with him yesterday?

FREEMARK: No, they weren't ready to talk to reporters. I did speak to several of Curtis' attorneys. For example, I talked to one attorney named Tucker Carrington who said, you know, there are huge problems in jury selection in courtrooms across the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TUCKER CARRINGTON: And, you know, we won this case. But what this case did was not solve the problem really but draw back the curtain on what is a systemic issue.

FREEMARK: So they were all very happy. This was a big day for them. But I think all of them are really aware that the problems exposed in the Flowers case didn't stop there.

SIMON: Thanks very much for being with us. Samara Freemark, managing producer of "In The Dark."

FREEMARK: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.