Curtis Flowers: The Other Side of Freedom

Curtis Flowers is now off death row but family members of the victims still believe he is guilty
Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 8:36 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 5, 2021 at 8:46 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - More than 23 years behind bars and six trials later, Curtis Flowers is off death row and now a free man. In an exclusive 3 On Your Side interview, his first with a Mississippi station, Flowers talked about life after serving time at Parchman for the murders of 4 people at the Tardy Furniture Store in Winona.

His freedom came with a heavy price for him, his family and the family members of the victims. We hear about his faith, future, and hopes, in this special report Curtis Flowers: The Other Side of Freedom.

Flowers spent over 23 years in prison for the murders of four people at the Tardy Furniture...
Flowers spent over 23 years in prison for the murders of four people at the Tardy Furniture Store in Winona.(WLBT)

Curtis Flowers was tried six times for the July, 16, 1996, murders of four people at Tardy Furniture store in Winona.

The victims were shot to death after the store opened for the day. Owner Bertha Tardy, her employee and friend Carmen Rigby, delivery driver Robert Golden and newly hired teenager Bobo Stewart were killed.

More than 23 years after his arrest, the charges were finally dropped against Flowers in September of 2020. Flowers had worked briefly at the store. He was always the prime suspect. But all of his trials resulted in hung juries or overturned convictions.

Flowers says he never doubted he would gain his freedom.

Carmen Rigby, Bertha Tardy, Robert Golden, and teenager Bobo Stewart were shot to death July...
Carmen Rigby, Bertha Tardy, Robert Golden, and teenager Bobo Stewart were shot to death July 16, 1996.(WLBT)

“I thought it would have happened a lot sooner but, you know... it just kept going and going and going,” Flowers said.

Every person you talk with who knows Curtis Flowers describes him the same way. Humble, not bitter and full of grace. One of the first questions I asked is how could he not be bitter after spending so much of his life on death row for four murders he and so many others say he did not commit.

“I would have to say family, you know, a big motivation, trying to stay grounded. Praying and not getting caught up in all the every day penitentiary things you know,” Flowers said.

Flowers says his mother’s unwavering faith helped keep him strong.

“Yes it was a big part. My Mom, she was my rock, she kept me going. She always came to see me every visitation. Her and my Dad. They was right there.”

One of the most painful things of serving time on death row for Flowers was losing his mother and not being able to say goodbye.

“That was something else in itself. I mean, I was so used to hearing of inmates getting to go to loved ones funerals or even to the wake and to find out that that the DA and the judge stopped it. You can’t go. And that was...It sort of felt like watching someone drown and you can’t do anything about it, you know. That was a rough feeling.”

Much of his time on death row was spent in solitary. Flowers shares what that time was like and his strategy to stay away from the bars.

“I received a lot of letters, a lot of support out there, so I found myself writing letters throughout the day, then at night I’m watching TV. Next day I start the same thing over again. I think one of the biggest things one has to do in the penitentiary is staying away from the bars. As you know, you get caught at the bars and then you’re arguing over something you know neither one of you should be arguing about. It was rough,” Flowers said.

Flowers is still struggling with his time on death row even in freedom.

“There’s not a day I get up and not think about Parchman. It’s always gonna be in your mind you know, and I try, these are things I pray about you know and ask the Lord to remove it but you know I think of Parchman. I think about the guys who are still there on death row.”

While support has spread nationally for Flowers, including from the NFL, family members of the victims still believe he is guilty. Brian Rigby was only 18 when his mother Carmen Rigby was murdered. Rigby says he and the other family members feel betrayed.

“Absolutely, without a doubt, I think the evidence is overwhelming,” Brian Rigby said. “If you just look at the evidence, it only points to one person and if it pointed toward someone else you know that would be great. But it doesn’t and you can’t deny the facts. You can’t change those facts. You can’t change that evidence.”

Rigby says all of the families are still waiting for justice and closure.

“You know, I know a lot of people think he’s been exonerated and that’s not the case. There was never a jury that returned a verdict of not guilty.”

Rigby says the victims were all good people who worked every day to take care of their families and they should never be forgotten.

Flowers is now married. His wife began writing him while he was in prison. He says he is happy and hoping to one day be a father.

National support continues to grow for Flowers. Jason Flom with the podcast Wrongful Conviction says he is hoping the person who took the victims’ lives will be caught.

“Curtis’ case was just; he’s one of only two people that have ever been tried six times in this country,” Flom said.

“They had the wrong guy,” Flowers said. “I sympathize with them. I hope they find the right person but Curtis is not the guy.”

Even with his support system, Flowers says he knows, though he is free of the prison bars, he is not free from the stigma, label and belief that he is the man who took four lives 25 years ago.

“I’m the type, I try not to look back because you know when you go to focusing on the past it’s hard to see all those blessing that are coming towards you because you’re always looking over your shoulder,” Flowers said.

Brian Rigby outlined some the evidence he says points to Curtis Flowers as the killer.

He says beginning with motive, Flowers was let go from Tardy Furniture and he says it was not on great terms.

Rigby says a bloody shoe print puts Flowers at the store, and he says Flowers had a connection with the gun that was used in the murders and there was gunshot residue on his hands the day of the murders.

Rigby says the families’ fight for justice has not ended, but they are limited in what they can do.

Flowers says he and his wife will probably relocate from Mississippi. There is a book in the works and he has been approached about a movie based on his arrest, his time on death row and his release.

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