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Curtis Flowers

Other Arkansas Exonerations
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On the evening of April 20, 2003, 45-year-old Jerry Dean Anderson was shot to death during a robbery of his convenience store, J.D.’s Quick Stop, in McNeil, Arkansas. Anderson was shot in the head, neck, and arm. The cash register was emptied except for a few $20 bills. A cigar box with loose change and Anderson’s wallet were taken during the heist.

Later that night, a citizen reported finding Anderson’s wallet and two credit cards bearing Anderson’s name under a viaduct not far from the store.

Three days later, police learned that 21-year-old Curtis Flowers had been at a party on the night of the shooting, but left. When he came back, he allegedly told his girlfriend, Natasha Jones, that he had been involved in the robbery and shooting at the convenience store in McNeil.

Police questioned Jones and later reported that Jones revealed that Flowers told her that he had met up with Craig Curry and Curry’s wife. When Curry said he was going to rob the convenience store, Jones said, Flowers went along. Jones said that Flowers told her that he and Curry were wearing scarves over their faces when they entered the store. She said Flowers claimed that Curry shot Anderson after they took his wallet, some cigarettes, and a cigar box with change. According to Jones, Flowers said they threw Anderson’s wallet away near a viaduct.

At the request of the Arkansas State Police, who were investigating the crime, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office sent a deputy to the home of Flowers’s mother. Flowers was there and agreed to come to the sheriff’s office to talk about the Anderson murder. There, Special Agent John Bishop and Sergeant Jerry Digman of the Arkansas State Police interviewed Flowers.

Flowers initially denied any involvement in the crime, but eventually confessed. Several weeks later, Curry was charged with capital murder and robbery. Police said witnesses reported that Curry told them he had to “take care of business” when he thought Anderson was reaching for a gun behind the counter. At that point, Curry was already in custody—he had been arrested for a traffic violation about two hours after Anderson was murdered and was being held without bond because he had failed to appear previously on an unrelated charge. Curry’s wife also was charged with murder and armed robbery.

Prior to trial, Flowers’s defense attorney filed a motion seeking to suppress his confession. Bishop and Digman testified that Flowers was advised of his Miranda rights, that he understood those rights, and that he signed a Miranda waiver form before confessing.

Flowers testified that he confessed after Bishop threatened to arrest his mother and kill his six-year-old daughter if he did not confess. Flowers testified that the officers did not read him his Miranda rights and refused his request for a lawyer. Dr. Tom Wright, a psychologist, testified that Flowers had an IQ range of 57 to 62—a level so low that Wright said it was not possible for Flowers to knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive his rights.

The judge denied the motion to suppress the confession, and in March 2004, Flowers went to trial in Columbia County Circuit Court. At the prosecution’s request, the judge barred Wright from testifying for the defense.

A woman testified that she was driving past the Quick Stop around 9 p.m. She said she saw Anderson’s truck parked in front—well past closing time—and then spotted someone—she couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman—running away from the store. She stopped and went inside and found Anderson in a pool of blood.

Robert McCallie testified that he and his wife stopped by the store on their way home after seeing lights on, and someone told them that Anderson had been shot. As they drove off, they saw a bandana in the alley and informed police, who put it in an evidence bag.

Chantelle Bequette-Taylor, a criminalist with the Arkansas state police crime laboratory, testified that she recovered a hair from the bandana and that it was microscopically similar to Flowers’s hair.

A DNA profile was identified from saliva recovered from the bandana found in the alley next to the Quick Stop. The profile matched neither Flowers nor Curry, but did match Kendrick Story, who lived in Magnolia, about six miles from the Quick Stop.

Story testified for the prosecution that he and his wife were in Magnolia at the time of the crime. Story also said that he often wore a bandana to do yard work, but that he had no idea how a bandana with his saliva wound up in the alley. He denied any involvement in the crime.

Bishop testified and read aloud the confession from Flowers. Bishop said Flowers claimed that he was in McNeil when Curry and his wife flagged him down and asked him to ride around with them. While they were in the car, Curry said he was going to rob Anderson’s store and asked Flowers to go with him. According to Bishop, Flowers said that Curry’s wife dropped them off near the store. Curry then put on a mask and they entered the store. Curry demanded money and Anderson handed over the cash drawer. Bishop testified that Flowers said he went outside and heard gunshots. Curry then came out, and Curry’s wife picked them up. They drove to a bridge where Curry threw Anderson’s wallet out the window and then tossed the handgun into the river. Bishop and Digman both denied that Flowers was threatened or coerced in any manner.

During cross-examination of Bishop, Flowers’s attorney asked about the statement the officer took from Natasha Jones, Flower’s girlfriend. In that statement, Jones allegedly recounted how Flowers, upon returning to the party on the night of the crime, described the robbery and the shooting. Flowers’s attorney noted that Jones had subsequently recanted her statement. As a result of that questioning, the prosecution was then allowed to play an audio recording of Jones’s statement to the jury.

Verta Flowers, Flowers’s cousin, and William Keith Brown testified that they were at the party with Natasha Jones and Flowers on the night of the crime. They both testified that Flowers was not at the party from 8 to 9 p.m., when they noticed that he had returned.

Flowers testified and denied any involvement in the crime. He said that he confessed falsely because he was afraid of Bishop, who had threatened to kill his daughter and arrest his mother.

On March 31, 2004, the jury convicted Flowers of capital murder and armed robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In August 2004, Curry went to trial in Columbia County Circuit Court. Two inmates at the Columbia County jail testified that Curry had admitted to shooting Anderson, although they gave differing accounts. Although the two inmates said they were together at the time Curry made the admission, one said Curry acknowledged his involvement out loud and the other said Curry merely nodded.

Kendrick Story again testified for the prosecution and denied involvement in the crime. He again testified that he had no idea how a bandana with his saliva came to be found in the alley next to the Quick Stop.

On August 18, 2004, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict and a mistrial was declared.

In May 2005, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld Flowers’s convictions. In July 2005, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Curry, saying the evidence of his guilt was insufficient to retry the case. The prosecution also dismissed the charges against Curry’s wife.

A month later, Allen Roberts, a lawyer for Flowers, filed a post-conviction petition seeking a new trial based on the identification of Story’s DNA on the bandana. The petition noted that Story had been arrested in May 2003—several weeks after Flowers was convicted—on charges of robbing an employee of a fast-food restaurant while wearing a bandana over the lower part of his face. Story was still awaiting trial on that charge more than a year later.

The petition for a new trial languished for nearly five years. In May 2010, however, lawyers for Flowers filed an amended petition, asserting that the prosecution had developed evidence that showed Kendrick’s testimony about his whereabouts at the time Anderson was murdered was false. The petition, however, did not specify the nature of that evidence.

The petition also claimed that Flowers had received an unfair trial because his trial defense lawyer, through his cross-examination of Bishop, had brought up the audio-recorded statement made by Natasha Jones that Flowers had admitted he was involved in the crime. The petition said that the recording would not otherwise have been allowed into evidence at the trial but for the defense lawyer’s cross-examination.

In September 2010, the prosecution declined to comment on the assertion that newly discovered evidence called into question Story’s alibi, but conceded that Flowers should be granted a new trial. In its response, the prosecution agreed that “the actions of defense counsel at trial constitute ineffective assistance of counsel, and considering the totality of the circumstances, trial counsel’s performance was deficient and the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.”

On November 15, 2010, Columbia County Circuit Court Judge Larry Chandler granted Flowers a new trial. The judge said, “Both Jones and (Flowers) recanted these statements prior to trial. Because Jones recanted her statement, the tape should have been inadmissible at trial.”

The judge noted that the prosecution “concedes that defense counsel’s actions that led to the Jones’ tape being introduced into evidence at the trial casts serious doubt that the decision reached by the jury would have been the same, absent the error. This Court agrees.”

The prosecution then dismissed the charges against Flowers and he was released from prison.

Nearly seven years later, in February 2017, Kendrick Story was charged with murdering Anderson at the Quick Stop. Story pled guilty to murder and aggravated robbery and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Following a lengthy reinvestigation, Story, who had been arrested and convicted of other armed robberies over the years, admitted that he acted alone when he shot Anderson. Story admitted that he went to the store to commit a robbery, but that he shot Anderson when Anderson charged toward him and then left without taking anything.

Investigators came to believe that Flowers and Curry came into the store sometime after Anderson had been shot, found his body on the floor, took the money, and fled.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/3/2017
State:Arkansas
County:Columbia
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:2003
Convicted:2004
Exonerated:2010
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:21
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*