Developments have been rapid during the past twenty-four hours in the case of the State of Tennessee vs. Ed. Johnson, charged with rape. Johnson has been identified by the young lady, Miss Nevada Taylor, as the negro who assaulted her at the gate of the Forest Hills cemetery, a grand jury has been duly empanel[l]ed and sworn, the case has been fully investigated, a true bill has been found and arrangements are already in progress for the trial which will occur early this week.
The network of evidence has for several days been closing in around Ed. Johnson until it is assured that he can never clear himself of guilt in the charge against him of having committed the outrage at St. Elmo on Tuesday night.
By the action of the grand jury yesterday and its finding of a true bill reported at the noon hour, the first step was taken in the prosecution of this negro criminal and no effort is to be spared in reaching a speedy trial. It was 10 o'clock yesterday morning before the members of the grand jury had assembled at the court house in response to the summons of Judge McReynolds, but two hours later that body had examined four witnesses and become sufficiently convinced of Johnson's guilt to return an indictment.
In the presence of a great crowd of anxious citizens, Judge McReynolds called his court to order. The preliminaries were few. The jury was empanel[l]ed, it being necessary to swear in two new men to take the place of two absent members. When completed the grand jury empowered to act in this case was composed of J. C. Forstner, foreman, and the following members: J. W. Clift, R. O. Carlin, W. L. Pollard, W. B. Spencer, J. F. Pursley, Wallace Estill, J. M. Cooper, W. C. McDonald, T. J. Hixson, Fred Robinson, J. R. Selcer, C. C. Howell.
No more impressive hour was ever experienced in the criminal court room of Hamilton County. The realization that the judicial machinery of the county was to be set in motion for the proper punishment of a horrible criminal in order to satisfy the demands of an indignant community seemed to pervade the vast crowd.
The countenance of the judge evinced the solemnity and responsibility of the occasion and as he spoke the first words of a charge without a parallel in criminal court annals here for vigor and determination, a hush ensued that continued throughout the memorable utterance.
Opening moments of a criminal court are usually not without their events of pleasantry and occasions for smiles. Not so that of yesterday. Serious faces were strained forward to hear every word of the court and there was no mistaking the fact that the solemn words and vigorous instructions delivered to the grand jury had a great effect upon all who heard.
More notable even than his command to the grand jury to investigate the atrocious crime which was the prime matter under consideration, were his instructions to indict every man and boy that took any part whatever in the storming of the jail on Thursday night. He specified by name the crimes of which all such were liable to conviction and left no room for the slightest suspicion that he meant other than he said in any regard....
JURY RETURNS TRUE BILL
In view of the fact that a report had gained widespread circulation that the case against Ed. Smith, charged with attempting to assault the young inmate of the Vine street orphanage, had been disposed of by a compromise verdict for three years, Judge McReynolds took occasion to make a strong statement on that subject. He stated that the records of the court were open for public inspection, that nothing was ever done in secret and that the case against Smith had been regularly set for trial this week. He made a like statement in regard to the murder charge against Floyd Westfield, the slayer of Lon Rains.
He made it clear to all who heard him that all reports of a compromise in these cases were mere idle talk and that there could never be such a disposition of them while he occupied the bench.
The grand jury retired to its room and under the personal supervision of Attorney General M. N. Whitaker, began the investigation of the case against Johnson. Of course the proceedings of the tribunal were kept a profound secret, but enough could be seen to justify the conclusion that every clue pointing to his guilt was being thoroughly investigated. Behind the locked doors the investigation was carried on for almost two hours and just at the noon hour the jury filed into the court room and J. C. Forstner, the foreman, handed to the curt the ominous paper. After a short conference between the two Judge McReynolds dismissed the jury until March 12....
The trial will take place with the least delay possible and everything in connection therewith will be done in accordance with the regular process of law. No date has been set for the trial but the public will be put on due notice when it is to occur and at the same time warning will be served that the operation of the court must not be interfered with.
ALMOST POSITIVE IDENTIFICATION
Identification, lacking but little of being absolutely positive, has been added to the chain of circumstances that served the grand jury yesterday as evidence of Ed Johnson's guilt. Miss Nevada Taylor whose good sense and keen wit have been of great use to the officers in arriving at their present certainty of success in this case, went to Nashville Friday afternoon for the purpose of seeing the two suspects that had been taken to that city for safe keeping.
Sheriff Shipp had been in Nashville but a short time before Miss Taylor
and her brother arrived in that city. He met them at the train and the
party at once proceeded to the county jail. It had been arranged for Miss
Taylor to take a seat where the shadow would be deepest and a brightly
reflected light was directed toward the spot where the two negroes were
to stand. Sheriff Shipp brought the negroes – Broaden or Wyatt (he seems
to have an abundance of names) on his right and Johnson on his left.
Both were questioned in a careless way in order for the young lady to hear their voices. They were moved around so she could see the style of their clothes. For fifteen minutes she closely scrutinized the two negroes and then they were taken away.
Upon being asked as to her opinion whether either of the two was the guilty party and, if either, which one, she said to Sheriff Shipp that she had never entertained a hope that he could succeed in bringing any person before her that she could recognize as even similar to the negro that had assaulted her. But she said that the one that had stood on the sheriff's left (Johnson), was like the man as she remembered him. As a conclusion to her scrutiny she used these words: "From that negro's general figure height and size; form his voice, as I can distinctly remember it; form his manner of movement and action, and from the clothing he wears, it is my best knowledge and belief that the man who stood on your left was the one assaulted me."
Miss Taylor has expressed herself in no uncertain language as being opposed to mob violence in this case.
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