Curtis Flowers Defense Team Receives Human Rights Award

UM law school's Innocence Project has represented Flowers since 2015

The George C. Cochran Innocence Project, housed at the UM School of Law, is among the recipients of the 2020 Frederick Douglass Human Rights Award. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The Southern Center for Human Rights has awarded the Curtis Flowers defense team, which includes the George C. Cochran Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi, the 2020 Frederick Douglass Human Rights Award.

Flowers was tried six times for the 1996 murder of four people in a furniture store in Winona. Finally, more than 23 years after his arrest, subsequent conviction and death sentence, the charges against Flowers were dismissed.

Each of the convictions and death 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 were overturned, this time by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2019.

Flowers was released from prison in December 2019 while awaiting a seventh trial. On Sept. 4, the state of Mississippi dismissed all charges against him.

Tucker Carrington, associate dean for clinical programs at the Ole Miss School of Law and director of the Innocence Project, has been part of Flowers’ defense team since the post-conviction phase in 2015.

Tucker Carrington, associate dean for clinical programs at the Ole Miss law school, has been part of Curtis Flowers’ defense team since 2015. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“Mr. Flowers’ persecution was shameful but, in the end, not without a silver lining,” Carrington said. “His name is now on a U.S. Supreme Court case, and that stands for something.

“That something is fortitude, and strength, and courage and ultimately, it stands for the right and decent thing: the rule of law.”

The case garnered national attention as evidence of Flowers’s innocence emerged in recent years, brought to light by the legal team that includes Hogan Lovells law firm, the Innocence Project and the Cornell Law School Capital Punishment Clinic. The case also was the subject of the award-winning, investigative reporting podcast series “In the Dark” by American Public Media.

The Frederick Douglass Human Rights Award recognizes and celebrates individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the enhancement of human rights in the justice system, said Sara Tonochi, SCHR executive director.

“With this award, SCHR honors their bold advocacy, unshakable commitment to speaking truth to power and the palpable compassion that they express for those whom society would discard,” Tonochi said. “This award recognizes the awe-inspiring and instructive way the team combined its immense talents for a multipronged approach to save Mr. Flowers’s life and expose the rampant injustice in his case.

“As did the great Frederick Douglass, this extraordinary team strives to protect and promote human rights and ‘agitate, agitate, agitate’ on behalf of the disenfranchised and oppressed, and we are proud to pay tribute to their remarkable work.”

Previous honorees include U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery and Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” (Scribe Publications, 2015), which was the 2017 Common Reading selection at UM.

The award was presented virtually at the 24th Annual Frederick Douglass Awards ceremony, which featured remarks from members of the defense team and from Flowers.

“I had some dark days – the day I was arrested and the days I was convicted for a crime I did not commit,” Flowers said in a video message. “But there have been some bright days, too.

“I will never forget the day the judge granted bail and I walked out of jail. I will never forget the day, some months later, when my lawyers told me and my family that the charges had been dropped, and I was truly a free man again.”

Flowers also had a message for those who are fighting for justice and for the lawyers fighting for them: keep the faith and keep fighting.

“It may be a long one, but there is hope in justice,” Flowers said.