By Alan Bean
If you want to understand just how flawed the case against Curtis Flowers is, consider the state’s failed conspiracy to conceal the sad truth about its star witness.
The defense attorneys representing Curtis Flowers have filed a supplemental motion for a new trial. As previously reported on this blog, Patricia Sullivan, the state’s key witness against Mr. Flowers was convicted on eight counts of income tax fraud in early 2011 and sentenced to 36 months in federal prison. But Ms. Sullivan was indicted on February 17, a full four months before Curtis Flowers was convicted in Winona, and therein lies the problem.
At a pre-trial hearing in the Flowers case, defense counsel filed a standard request for updated criminal histories on all state witnesses. District Attorney Doug Evans gave assurances that he had turned over all the information in his possession.
Now Evans claims that he was unaware that his star witness had been indicted for a crime of dishonesty four months before Flowers went to trial.
There is a slim chance that Evans is telling the truth (very slim), but it really doesn’t matter. By law, it is a prosecutor’s responsibility to know if criminal charges have been filed against state witnesses. Not knowing isn’t good enough; it was Evans’ responsibility to make the necessary inquiries.
It gets worse.
Shortly after being indicted for income tax fraud, Patricia Sullivan retained Mark Horan as her attorney. Until recently, Horan served as Assistant DA under Doug Evans and, in that capacity, helped prosecute a number of the unprecedented six trials against Curtis Flowers. If Evans didn’t know (or didn’t want to know) that his star witness had been indicted for telling bizarre lies to the IRS over a four-year period, it was Horan’s responsibility to give his former boss the bad news.
What are the chances that an experienced attorney like Horan concealed evidence from his former colleagues in Grenada Mississippi? As the defense argued in its response to Evans’:
No minimally competent defense attorney in Horan’s position would have sent his indicted client to testify, under oath and subject to cross-examination, without taking steps to both minimize her exposure to damaging questions about the charges she faced, and develop ways to protect her in the event she came under attack by informed defense counsel. The State’s suggestion that this is precisely what occurred strains credulity and demands further scrutiny.
Prosecutors are responsible for informing defense counsel of legal issues affecting the credibility of state witnesses because, unlike defense attorneys, the prosecution has access to NCIC (National Crime Information Center) information. A quick records search would have informed Evans that Ms. Sullivan was damaged goods, but he didn’t punch the necessary buttons.
The most natural assumption is that Horan and Evans discussed Sullivan’s legal situation, recognized her importance to the Flowers case, and decided to stonewall. That is the only plausible explanation for the state’s failure to inform the defense team that a wonderful new line of questioning had opened up.
In the second Flowers trial, Patricia Sullivan’s brother Odell testified that he and Patricia had dreamed up her testimony in an attempt to get their hands on the $30,000 in reward money the state had on offer. Odell Hallmon made this claim when he was locked up, but he eventually returned to the free world and moved in with his mother and Patricia. It wasn’t long before the weak-willed Odell was backing off his story.
Odell’s trial 2 testimony is entirely consistent with the fraudulent behavior for which Patricia was convicted in 2010. Consider this summary of the government’s sustained allegations:
According to evidence presented at trial, Sullivan had been preparing tax returns for over twenty years, including work at a number of different tax preparation businesses in the Jackson, Mississippi, area. The taxpayers whose returns Sullivan falsely prepared testified that they never told her to claim large itemized deductions and did not give her any documents to support the large amounts claimed for itemized deductions. In addition, Sullivan had included fraudulent business expenses for two taxpayers who did not even own a business. She also fraudulently listed “foster children” on various taxpayers’ returns in order for those taxpayers to claim dependents and the Earned Income Credit, when in fact these taxpayers did not have foster children. Sullivan also attempted to obstruct justice during the audit of one of her clients by directing the creation and submission of false receipts to justify false deductions and expenses which she had claimed on her client’s tax returns.
Sullivan had been running her scam for years but escaped criminal charges until a client of three years demanded copies of her returns. When Sullivan refused, the woman went to the IRS and the scheme quickly unraveled.
But this was not the first indication that Sullivan was running a bogus tax service. According to a report from Jackson’s CBS affiliate: “In early 2009 [a full year before her indictment], protesters stood outside her place of employment, TNT Tax Service, demanding a refund for their tax returns.”
Patricia Sullivan, bless her felonious little heart, shows all the signs of being a full-blown sociopath, a person, in other words, without conscience and incapable of remorse.
The state’s “investigation” of the savage murder of four innocent people at a Winona Mississippi furniture store on July 16, 1996 was designed with people like Patricia Sullivan in mind. I am not suggesting that all the Winona residents who have taken the stand for the prosecution over the past 15 years are sociopaths; but it took a radical mercenary like Ms. Sullivan to get the ball rolling.
Unable to turn up credible evidence against anyone on their suspect list, state investigators decided to pin the crime on Curtis Flowers. To this end they went door-to-door in the neighborhood between Flowers’ home and the factory where Doug Evans suspected the murder weapon was acquired. In one hand, investigators like John Johnson held a picture of Curtis; in the other hand was a flyer announcing the $30,000 reward waiting for anyone who could supply useful information.
The message wasn’t subtle: Tell us you saw Curtis Flowers walking by your place on the morning of the murders, and you’ll receive double the money the average person in this neighborhood makes in a year.
Still, no one came forward. Just when investigators were beginning to fear that a horrendous crime was headed for the cold case file, Patricia Sullivan, Mr. Flowers’ next door neighbor, concocted her now-famous story.
She had been out for a walk the morning of the murders when she saw old Curtis sitting on his porch looking angry. Then she saw him head out (albeit in the opposite direction of the factory where he allegedly stole the murder weapon out of a parked car). Then she saw him return to his duplex apartment only to head out again a few minutes before the crime was committed.
This information fit the state’s theory of the crime perfectly. Sullivan recalled all the relevant times with admirable precision and her testimony established the timeline investigators used to elicit testimony from all the other eyewitnesses.
Asked if you have seen Curtis Flowers on the morning of the murders, a potential witness would think long and hard before concocting a bogus story. What if you gave the wrong time, or had Curtis walking in the wrong direction?
But if investigators ask if you saw Curtis Flowers walking toward the garment factory at a precise time of day, all that stands between you and $30,000 is a simple “yes”.
Without Patricia Sullivan’s timeline, the tissue of lies the state used to create the appearance of a case falls apart. Without Patricia, none of these people would have gone on the record.
The Flowers tragedy has always been a story about how not to conduct a homicide investigation; the implosion of Patricia Sullivan’s credibility is simply Exhibit A. In its response to the State, defense counsel got it right:
Simply put, this has always been a weak case, which largely explains why it has taken fifteen years and six trials only to reach the point at which yet another instance of serious prosecutorial misconduct has come to light.