In the long and sordid ordeal of repeatedly trying Curtis Flowers for the gruesome 1996 quadruple slaying at a former Winona furniture store, the one thing the case desperately needed was an impartial set of prosecutorial eyes to look at the evidence and see whether it added up to guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

When it finally got another opinion — outside of District Attorney Doug Evans, who stubbornly wouldn’t turn loose of the case for years despite a series of reversals or mistrials — that second opinion said the evidence just wasn’t there.

Last Friday, after 24 years — most of which Flowers spent on death row at the state penitentiary at Parchman — the case against him was officially closed.

The presiding judge, Joey Loper, agreed to do so at the request of Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who took over the prosecution earlier this year.

Fitch’s request for dismissal said what most of Flowers’ defenders have been saying for years: namely, that the evidence against him was contradictory and unreliable, and that investigators had not chased down leads that implicated alternative suspects. Further complicating the prospect of an unprecedented seventh trial was that in the 24 years since the slayings, some of those who testified in previous trials had died.

The attorney general’s determination, although reasonable, is not going to provide complete satisfaction to anyone.

There certainly has to be some joy for Flowers and his family that the case against him is officially closed. If he was truly innocent as he professes, however, that means he was robbed of his freedom for almost half of his 50 years of life. Although he might be able to receive up to $500,000 in compensation from the state if he can prove he was wrongfully incarcerated, that won’t make up for such a loss.

For the family members of the four victims, they are left with a bitter pill that someone executed their loved ones gangland-style and has gotten away with it. If they still believe it was Flowers, it will gall them that he is going free. If they have doubts, they must face the prospect that the perpetrator may never be found. Whatever trail of evidence there is has almost certainly gone cold in the past 24 years.

No one can claim justice was served. There has only been pain and heartache and loss.

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