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Report From Albany


Editor's note: This is the last of three articles written by a Harvard Law student describing the trial of a Negro man in Baker County, Ga. Elizabeth Holtzman was a clerk this summer for C. B. King of Albany, Ga. one of the attorneys who defended Charlie Ware.

Both sides closed the case, the defense again moving for a directed verdict which was denied. The law was argued to the court, with the State concentrating on the question of how to prove drunkenness and the defense contending the arrest without a warrant was illegal, as long as the offense was not committed in the presence of an officer. The defense further argued that the evidence presented was circumstantial, and that at most the State had made out a case for assault with no grounds provided for conviction for attempted murder.

Attorney Hollowell's address to the jury was executed with consummate artistry. The evidence adduced by the State, he declared, "was a slender reed, gentlemen, in the tide of the testimony." As a tribute to the power of his argument, the court adjourned until the next morning, hoping that the span of a single night would erase Hollowell's words from the jury's minds.

The prosecution attorney was interrupted twice in his summation, an almost unheard of phenomenon, for the gross inaccuracies and distortions that had crept into his oration. In a tiny voice, probably unheard by the jury, the judge charged the twelve men. They retired at 10:10 a.m. to consider their verdict, but returned in 20 minutes with a request to see the jail. At noon they returned and were sent to lunch.

The verdict--guilty with a recommendation of mercy--was returned at 2:10 p.m. The judge sent them out again to determine whether they meant by this recommendation that the felony should be treated as a misdemeanor, and after ten more minutes the jury agreed that this had been indeed what they meant.

The verdict, of course, was a lie; but the leniency of its terms was surprising and perhaps indicative of important changes. While the jury had found it necessary to save face for the Sheriff, it had also given him a warning that he could not expect the total support of his townsmen in future acts of violence.

Hollowell speculated after the trial that perhaps even Baker County, the bedrock of primitivism and overt brutality, would less frequently be the scene of gratuitous violence by so-called law-enforcement officials.

These conclusions are probably overly optimistic, however. For there undoubtedly will be violence and perhaps death when people enter Baker County in the future to encourage the Negroes to protest the system under which they have suffered so greatly and demand a permanent change.

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