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An all-white jury in Hayneville, Alabama, yesterday acquitted the man who called Jonathan M. Daniels, a civil-rights worker and a senior at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge.
After less than two hours of deliberation, Thomas L. Coleman, 55, a highway engineer and part-time sheriff, was found innocent of a manslaughter charge on a plea of self-defense. The defense claimed that young Daniels was armed with a knife when Coleman shot him with a .12 gauge automatic shot-run last August 20. Prosecution witnesses denied that Daniels was armed.
The manslaughter acquittal means that no further criminal charge in connection with Daniels' death can be filed in state court against the defendant. Coleman, however, was also indicted by a Lowndes County grand jury on an assault and battery charge for the shooting of another civil-rights worker, the Rev. Richard Morrisroe, a Roman Catholic priest from Chicago.
Speculation at the trial was the Alabama Attorney General Richmond Howers, who was dismissed from the case as prosecutor after trying unsuccessfully to get the trial postponed, would try to get the charge beefed-up to one of assault with intent to kill. No date has been set, however, for further trial, and it is possible the charge will be dropped altogether.
Morrisroe, critically wounded by a second shotgun blast seconds after Daniels was slain, is under treatment in a Chicago hospital and was unable to appear a court as a witness. The defense claimed that the priest also was armed with a gun. Officers, however, found no weapon at the scene of the shooting except the shotgun which Coleman used.
The trial verdict brought outcries of protest all over the nation. The American Civil Liberties Union last night asked Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black to conduct an investigation and to halt future trials in Lowndes County. Flowers, who called the trial a "mockery of law and order," said prejudice in Hayneville would make it impossible to ever get a fair hearing.
The Rev. John B. Coburn, Dean of the Episcopal Theological School, called the perdict a "shocking travesty of American Justice." Coburn had earlier sent a telegram testifying to Daniels' good character for insertion in the trial record. An observer at the trial said the telegram was presented to the state prosecutor, but that the prosecutor did not present to the court.
Coleman's trial was only the fifth time in ten years that a white Southerner had been indicted in connection with the killing of a civil-rights worker. None has been convicted.
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