District Attorney Doug Evans certainly picked a strange time to be a no-show in the Curtis Flowers case.
This month’s bail hearing was Evans’ first opportunity to respond in court to a U.S. Supreme Court decision and extensive media coverage that have cast doubts about the fairness of his handling not only of this sensational murder case but also other cases he has prosecuted involving black defendants.
Instead, Evans sent a subordinate to handle the Montgomery County court proceeding, which irritated presiding Circuit Judge Joseph Loper. That irritation may have contributed to Loper’s decision to concur with the defense attorneys’ arguments and grant bail for Flowers, who was released from custody for the first time in 22 years.
Loper also sent a stern message to the prosecutor to either get on the stick and state his intentions to try Flowers for a seventh time or to drop the capital murder charges.
The judge had every right to lose his patience. It’s been six months since the Supreme Court threw out Flowers’ latest conviction — the fourth time that either state or federal appellate courts have found the guilty verdicts unacceptably tainted by prosecutorial misconduct, most notably Evans’ propensity to exclude black jurors. And still Evans has not indicated — either in public comments or in court filings — whether he plans to try Flowers again for the 1996 execution-style slaying of furniture store owner Bertha Tardy and three of her employees.
Evans has only two reasonable options: either to drop the charges, or to recuse himself and his office from the case and let another district attorney or the attorney general weigh the evidence and decide whether to pursue another trial.
There are strong opinions both of Flowers’ guilt and of his innocence. There is circumstantial evidence, including motive and opportunity, pointing to his culpability, but there are also serious problems with the case — such as the recanting of prosecution witnesses — that have cast reasonable doubt as to whether he committed the murders.
Which side is considered most compelling has been largely dictated by the race of the person making the judgment. It is no coincidence that in the two trials with the most racially mixed juries, they could not reach a unanimous verdict.
It is not possible to convince everyone who has followed this case as to whether Flowers is a cold-blooded killer or whether a grave injustice has been done to him. But they should be convinced that Evans has no business remaining associated with it.