Convict seeks new trial in 2002 good Samaritan slaying

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 11, 2012 

Ten years after a drive-by shooting took a good Samaritan's life, a Columbus judge finally will rule on one convicted killer's motion for a new trial.

Tasha Flowers already had one court hearing on that motion back in 2010, but authorities say former Muscogee Superior Court Judge Doug Pullen never issued a ruling, leaving the case in limbo. On Tuesday it finally came before Judge Gil McBride, who after a two-hour hearing promised to issue a decision within 30 days.

McBride needs time to read a transcript of Flowers' first hearing for a new trial, which Pullen held March 29, 2010. A transcript of that proceeding could not be found on file in the Superior Court clerk's office in time for Tuesday's hearing, McBride said.

"It may well be at the Cusseta Road storage facility," the judge said of the warehouse for city records.

To clear up some confusion surrounding Flowers' case, the judge had to ask defense attorney Tim Flournoy which of several new trial motions he wished to pursue. At least four had accumulated since Flowers was convicted of murder in 2003. Flournoy told McBride he would rely on his initial motion for a new trial filed Oct. 15, 2003, and amended in January 2010. The attorney's primary objections to how Flowers' trial was conducted involved eyewitness accounts -- or lack of them.

Flowers was convicted in what authorities believe was a revenge killing. Sometime after 8 p.m. Oct. 4, 2002, customers leaving the Interlude Bar on Simmons Avenue found Flowers' brother Carlos in the parking lot and believed he was trying to steal a ladder from their truck. They attacked him, beating him so badly he later would need hospital care.

The thrashing ended when a 50-year-old bar patron named Robert Stephens interceded. Carlos Flowers, who with other siblings lived two blocks away at his mother's house on Knox Street, walked home bruised and bloody.

When his family learned what happened, Robert Walker and Tasha Flowers got into a car and headed for the bar, firing into the business' open door from their vehicle. They hit only one customer -- Robert Stephens, the man who had just rescued Carlos Flowers. The bullet struck him right below one eye, and he fell to the floor, dying.

The car returned to the Flowers' home, where a witness said he saw Walker and Tasha Flowers get out. Walker was holding a gun and could be heard saying, "We took care of the family. We took care of business," said Assistant District Attorney Wesley Lambertus.

Testimony challenged

But Flournoy disputed the witness' testimony and the way police solicited it.

Only two people said they saw Walker and Tasha Flowers near the vehicle, and only one of them said he actually saw the suspects get out of the car, Flournoy argued. Detectives got the latter witness to identify Tasha Flowers by showing him not a photo lineup, but a single photograph with her name typed on it, a procedure Flournoy called "unduly suggestive."

That witness, Hanalei Kaililaau, was 15 years old in 2002. He told police he saw the car go to the bar, heard the shots and saw gunsmoke puff from the vehicle he described as dark gray. But he could not identify who was in the car as it passed him. He told investigators he lay on the ground and closed his eyes as it went by, but then got up and followed it.

At the Flowers' residence, Kaililaau saw Walker and Tasha Flowers get out, and saw that Walker had a gun, he told police.

The second witness, Nicolas Perry, described the car as medium or "hunter green." He told investigators he heard the shots, too, but he also could not see who was in the vehicle. He told police he later saw Walker and Tasha Flowers standing by the car, but he did not see them get out of it.

Flournoy said prosecutors also relied on the testimony of a convicted felon named Charles Edge, who in court said that while he and Walker were jailed together. Walker admitted to the shooting and told Edge his "cousin" was driving the car. Edge was supposed to limit his testimony solely to what Walker admitted doing, but he went on to tell the jury that Walker said a woman was driving the car.

Flournoy felt that was grounds for a mistrial. He said he also objected during the trial when then-Detective Bill Griffis testified police had "established" Walker and Tasha Flowers committed the drive-by shooting.

Flournoy noted also that Tasha Flowers had multiple witnesses, including her mother and two sisters, testify she had an alibi for the evening Stephens was shot. Those witnesses said she was at a Joy Road home assisting a disabled woman from 6 p.m. until after midnight. A taxi driver testified he took her back home that night.

Prosecution responds

Lambertus countered that the eyewitness testimony regarding the shooting was reliable, and that both Perry and Kaililaau were able to identify who got out of the car. Kaililaau picked Walker's picture from a photo lineup, but that wasn't necessary for him to identify Tasha Flowers, because Kaililaau had lived in the neighborhood for 11 years and already knew her, the prosecutor said. Detective Drew Tyner showed Kaililaau a photo of Tasha Flowers only to confirm they were talking about the same person, Lambertus said.

Even if police and prosecutors erred in aspects of the investigation and trial, the errors were not sufficient to warrant a new trial, Lambertus said.

Also in McBride's court Tuesday was attorney Bill Mason, who said he represents Walker. Walker also is seeking a new trial, but authorities were not able to schedule his hearing for Tuesday, Mason said.

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