Venue proposal stems from furniture slayings in Winona

By Shelia Byrd/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Mississippi lawmakers are considering a bill that could have an impact on the long-running capital murder case of a Montgomery County man accused of killing four people at a furniture store nearly 15 years ago.

Curtis Flowers is set to be tried a sixth time later this year for the 1996 murders at Tardy Furniture store in Winona.

The case has nearly depleted Montgomery County’s jury pool, and is one of the reason legislators have been asked to approve a proposal to expand the area from which jurors are selected, said Circuit Court Lanelle Martin.

The Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow counties to pull prospective jurors from an entire multicounty circuit district. Currently, jurors are sought from the county in which the crime occurred.

Flowers is charged with capital murder in the shooting deaths of Winona furniture store owner Bertha Tardy, 59; store employees Derrick “BoBo” Stewart, 16, and Carmen Rigby, 45; and delivery man Robert Golden, 42.

Flowers has had three trials in Winona, one in Tupelo and one in Biloxi. Two resulted in mistrials and three in convictions that were later overturned. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty in the trial scheduled for June at the Montgomery County Courthouse.

Martin said the county has fewer than 8,000 registered voters. The jury pool shrinks with the exclusion of those who choose not to serve and anyone who’s under the age of 21.

“You’re depleting the pool even more with relatives of the victims and relatives of the defendants,” she said. “That is one of the things that brought that bill on.”

Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said Montgomery County has spent $300,000 on the case so far. He said the costs are higher when the case is heard outside the county.

Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, and Sen. Johnnie Walls, D-Greenville, opposed the measure.

Walls said there’s already a mechanism in place to ensure defendants are treated fairly because judges can order that the cases be heard outside of the county in other areas of the state.

“The biggest problem I see is that we’ve been asked to do it because of one case because a person could not be convicted in the way the prosecution wanted the case to go,” Walls said. “They seem to be trying to get a special consideration for this case.”

Walls said the proposal would have statewide implications even though it’s been filed for only one situation. A similar bill filed last year passed the Senate, but was killed in the House.

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The bill is Senate Bill 2135.