03 Sep Mississippi District Attorney Doug Evans Sued for Engineering the Wrongful Prosecution of Curtis Flowers
The landmark lawsuit was brought on behalf of Flowers by the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Hogan Lovells law firm
September 3, 2021 – Today, the Mississippi Center for Justice and Hogan Lovells filed a federal court lawsuit against District Attorney Doug Evans and three investigators for misconduct that led to the wrongful prosecution of Curtis Flowers (click here to view the complaint). Flowers, who was falsely accused of killing four people in a furniture store in Winona, MS in 1996, was forced to undergo six trials for capital murder and 23 years in prison before he was finally exonerated last year.
The lawsuit addresses a variety of misconduct by Evans and the investigators, including pressuring witnesses to implicate Flowers and ignoring other more likely suspects. It does not seek a specific amount of money but instead leaves all questions to a jury.
“Curtis Flowers never should have been charged,” said Rob McDuff of the Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice. “The murders were clearly the work of professional criminals. Curtis Flowers was 26 years old with no criminal record and nothing in his history to suggest he would commit a crime like this. The prosecution was tainted throughout by racial discrimination and repeated misconduct. This lawsuit seeks accountability for that misconduct.”
“Curtis Flowers can never get back the twenty-three years of his life that he spent in prison when he should have been home with his family and friends,” said Kaitlyn Golden of Hogan Lovells. “The law allows innocent people to file lawsuits seeking to hold state officials accountable for misconduct leading to wrongful imprisonment. With this case, we hope to do just that, and to seek some redress for Curtis Flowers for the horrors he endured over more than two decades behind bars.”
Flowers’ ordeal garnered national attention, including a highly acclaimed podcast on the American Public Media series “In the Dark,” and an episode on “60 Minutes” that focused on Flowers’ innocence and the relentless pursuit of him by the prosecutor, District Attorney Doug Evans.
The six trials for capital murder that Flowers endured is unprecedented in the annals of the American legal system. Each of the convictions and deaths sentences in the first three trials was overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court for prosecutorial misconduct, including racial discrimination by the prosecutor in jury selection in the third trial. The fourth and fifth trials ended in hung juries. The conviction and death sentence in the sixth trial also was overturned, this time by the United States Supreme Court in June of 2019, due to what the Supreme Court called Evans’ “relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals” over the course of the various trials.
After the case was sent back to the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Mississippi for a potential seventh trial, Flowers’ lawyers filed a motion for bail, a motion to dismiss the charges, and a motion to recuse Evans. The motion for bail cited Flowers’ absence of a criminal record, his peaceful nature as confirmed by a spotless prison record in the 23 years since his arrest, the recantations of prosecution witnesses since the last trial, and evidence of alternative suspects who were much more likely than Flowers to have committed these murders. Flowers was released on bail on December 16, 2019.
Three weeks later, Doug Evans withdrew from the case and Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch was appointed to take his place. After lawyers in her office spent several months reviewing the evidence and the history of the case, she moved to dismiss the case and the prosecution was finally ended on September 4, 2020.
Subsequently, Flowers was awarded the maximum amount of money provided by state law, $50,000 each year for ten years, for wrongly convicted people who prove their innocence. But the law also allows for lawsuits like the one filed today.
“Too many of the innocent people wrongly imprisoned in this country were victims of misconduct by prosecutors and law enforcement officers,” said Vangela M. Wade, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice. “Most are not held accountable. While Curtis Flowers was trapped behind bars for nearly a quarter-century, Doug Evans has faced virtually no consequences for his crusade to convict this innocent man and for his discriminatory manipulation of the legal system. We are pursuing this lawsuit to bring some level of accountability.”
Flowers is represented in this lawsuit by Jonathan L. Abram, Kathryn Marshall Ali, W. David Maxwell, and Kaitlyn A. Golden of Hogan Lovells and Rob McDuff of the Mississippi Center for Justice. Hogan Lovells and MCJ were among the lawyers who represented Curtis Flowers during his legal battle for exoneration.
The Mississippi Center for Justice is dedicated to dismantling the state’s culture of inequity and injustice. Support and staffed by attorneys and other professionals, the Center pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.
Global law firm Hogan Lovells has a long tradition of supporting ground-breaking social developments, focusing on access to justice and the rule of law. As lawyers we recognize this commitment is part of our professional practice and collectively we spend 150,000+ pro bono hours per year on work to achieve lasting impact for others.