Mississippi prosecutor who tried Curtis Flowers on murder charges six times steps down

Curtis Flowers, right, sits with attorney Henderson Hill during a December 2019 bond hearing in Winona, Mississippi.

(CNN)The Mississippi district attorney who prosecuted Curtis Flowers for capital murder six times, only to see his efforts end in mistrials or overturned convictions, is stepping down from the case, according to a court document.

But that doesn't mean Flowers' legal saga, which has dragged on for more than two decades, is over.
In his voluntary recusal, filed Monday in Montgomery County Circuit Court, prosecutor Doug Evans said he stood by his work in the case and requested that the state attorney general's office take over the prosecution.
"While I remain confident in both the investigation and jury verdict in this matter, I have come to the conclusion that my continued involvement will prevent the families from obtaining justice and from the defendant being held responsible for his actions," Evans wrote.
    Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is leaving office Thursday, but he expressed confidence in Evans and in the case that has garnered national headlines, most recently last month when, following a fourth vacated conviction, Judge Joseph Loper granted Flowers bail, allowing the 49-year-old to leave prison for the first time in 23 years.
    "Doug Evans has been an honest lawman and prosecutor for as long as I can remember," Hood said in a statement. "The facts are sufficient for the case to be retried. Appellate courts are made up of humans, just like us all. In extremely rare cases, I have seen them allow emotions to overcome logic in tough cases.
    "I have spent my entire career believing in our criminal justice system. I know juries get it right 99.9% of the time. A fair jury should resolve this case one way or another. "
    Mississippi Treasurer Lynn Fitch, who will take over as attorney general this week, did not immediately return a call seeking comment about her plans for the case should her office take it over.

    Defense: 'Curtis Flowers is innocent'

    One of Flowers' attorneys, Rob McDuff, applauded Evans' recusal and said he looked forward to an impartial review by Fitch's office. His client is innocent, he said, and attempts to prosecute Flowers have been "plagued from the beginning by misconduct and racial discrimination," he said.
    McDuff also took issue with Hood's defense of Evans and the outgoing attorney general's "potshot at the appellate judges in this case."
    "This was not a case with just one reversal for prosecutorial misconduct, but four. That is unprecedented in the history of the American legal system," he said. "In other words, every time Doug Evans won a conviction, he did it by cheating. After each trial, Jim Hood's office tried to defend Doug Evans on appeal, and each time they lost."
    Hood hasn't seen the recently discovered evidence pointing to Flowers' innocence, the defense attorney said, noting that Loper, in granting bail last month, told the prosecution that it's facing the prospect of presenting a much weaker case to the jury than it has in the past.
    Flowers, a black man, is accused of capital murder in the 1996 killing of four people inside a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi. Prosecutors allege Flowers stole a .380-caliber pistol and shot the store's owner, Beth Tardy, and three employees execution-style on July 16, 1996.
    Flowers had once worked for Tardy, and according to prosecutors, killed her because she fired him after docking his pay for damaging a pair of batteries. He killed the other three victims to eliminate witnesses, prosecutors allege. Tardy and two victims were white; one was black.
    The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned Flowers' first three convictions, two of which resulted in death sentences, and his next two trials ended in hung juries.
    In June, the US Supreme Court ruled Flowers deserved a new trial because Evans had engaged in unconstitutional racial discrimination by striking African American jurors from the panel.
    "Equal justice under law requires a criminal trial free of racial discrimination in the jury selection process," Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh said, reading the high court's 7-2 decision.
    It was not the first time Evans had faced such allegations. In November, four black Attala County residents filed a class-action lawsuit against Evans, alleging "he and his assistants have employed a policy, custom, or use of discriminatorily striking black jurors with peremptory challenges."
    Evans did not return a call Monday seeking comment.

    Prosecution stands by its case

    Loper set Flowers' bail at $250,000 during a December 16 hearing last month, and Flowers left the Winston Choctaw County Regional Correctional Facility hours later.
    In pressing for bail, McDuff repeatedly cited prosecutorial misconduct and accused Evans' office of a "pattern of favors" in securing testimony against Flowers. Among them is an instance in which a man -- with "a criminal record a mile long" -- was accused of aggravated assault against a police officer and granted bail, he said.
    "This really was a deal with the devil that the district attorney made, and it is the supreme irony that a district attorney agreed to bail in that case with that man's record, but is here opposing the bail application of Curtis Flowers," the defense attorney said.
    In addition, McDuff said, key prosecution witnesses have recanted their sworn statements in interviews with producers of a podcast, and there is evidence pointing to more likely suspects.
    McDuff played a portion of the podcast, during which a key witness tells the interviewer of his testimony that Flowers admitted to the murders in prison: "He ain't never tell me that. That was a lie ... Everything was all make-believe on my part."
    Assistant District Attorney Adam Hopper told Loper the prosecution believes it still has a strong case. The witness statements were recanted to the media, not to prosecutors, he said, and there is other evidence implicating Flowers.
      Included is a witness who saw Flowers near the car from which the gun was stolen, a witness who saw Flowers arguing with someone near the furniture store and gunshot residue on Flowers' hands.
      Investigators who searched Flowers' residence found an empty shoebox for sneakers that matched shoe prints found at the crime scene, Hopper added. Also, two of the people the defense claims could be suspects had no motive for the killing, he said.