[Chattanooga Times, 2/10/1906]

Jury Decides Negro Must Pay Extreme Penalty and Appeal Will Not be Made.


Seemingly Only Cool One in Room When Court Makes Declaration Which Means His Execution-One of Trio of Important Prisoners Taken to Knoxville For Safekeeping by Sheriff Shipp-Sensational Case Over and Public Satisfied With Outcome.

Without exhibiting any sign of fear or emotion and with a smile playing across his features, Ed Johnson, convicted of assaulting Miss Nevada Taylor on the night of January 23, was yesterday afternoon sentenced to hang on Tuesday, march 13 by Judge S.D. McReynolds, in the presence of a small crowd.

No emotion for a new trial or an appeal was attempted.  The defense, through W.G.M. Thomas, merely stated that if in the opinion of the court, the defendant was guilty of the crime as charged, it would be their pleasure to abide by the action and decree of the court.  Judge McReynolds replied with a brief, but comprehensive review of the trial and ended by sentencing the negro to die.  The entire time consumed in the action was not over ten minutes.


 Johnson had been previously brought across to the court house from the county jail under guard of a strong cordon of officers.  He came into the court room handcuffed to Deputy Sheriff Charles Baker and was surrounded by Sheriff  Shipp and six policemen.

 Johnson appeared to be in good spirits and seemed to take interest in every move made by those assembled in the court room.  He said down before the judge's bench between the two officers and looked to be the coolest man in the crowd.  He did not display the least emotion or weakness during the time that he was before the court and seemed to be in a pleasant frame of mind when sentence was passed upon him.  As the words, "and may God have mercy on your soul," passed from Judge McReynolds, the negro looked steadfastly at the court and with the suspicion of a smile playing across his black features said, "Thank you, sir."  Just previously, when the court had asked him if he had anything son, all combined to make the event one which will long be remembered by those who were present.

 Johnson with three other negros, was taken to Knoxville yesterday afternoon by Sheriff Shipp.  The train due to leave here at 4 o'clock was held about thirty minutes so that the sheriff might catch it.


 The verdict of the jury was received in open court about 9:30 o'clock yesteday morning and the jury was discharged.  Only a small crowd was present at the time and there was no demonstration of any character.  Outside of the court  room the news flew from mouth to mouth and there was a universal expression of commendation regarding the jury's action.

 It was a great victory for law and order.  The history of the case from the night whereon the crime was committed has been that of a conflict between officers of the law and irate citizen's bent upon administering summary punishment without a trial.  Every resource of city and county has been called into requisition to hold the prisoner in safety until a jury could be permitted to pass on the case.  For three days the battle was fought to save the negro's neck and through it all the court room was kept clear of any person thought to be inclined toward violence.

 The entire city was all expectancy yesterday morning when it was learned that the jury had retired for consideration of the case. Many were fearful of a mistrial-none was heard to predict an acquittal.  When the jury had made its report of guilty, it required but a very few minutes for the word to scatter over the city. It was the topic upon every tongue and citizens devoted to preservation of the law rejoiced over it as a notable victory.

 The accused negro was brought from the jail securely guarded and extra precautions were taken in expectation of some sort of a demonstration when his fate became known.  The negro entered the court room with the same expressionless countenance he has maintained since his first accusation and took a seat near the place he had sat for three long days while the chain of circumstantial evidence was being woven around him.

 The jury filed in and submitted a written verdict.  It was that the defendant, Ed Johnson, was found guilty as charged,  no qualification of recommendation accompanying the verdict.  the jury was polled and each man subscribed to the verdict and the clerk made due entry of the outcome of the great trial.


At 12:30 o'clock there was a conference between Judge Lewis Shepherd, Robert Cameron and W.G. M. Thomas, attorneys for the defendant and Foster V. Brown, Robert Pritchard and J. H. Cantrell, who were appointed by the court, during which a review of the evidence in the case was carefully gone over.  This meting resulted in the lawyers for the defendant announcing that they were ready to abide by the judgment of the jury if the court approved its verdict.

 It was announced that the report of this conference would be made in open court at 3 o'clock and at the appointed hour, about fifty persons had gathered in the court room.  The attorneys for the state were closeted in one room while in the defendant's lawyers were holding a conference in another part of the building.  It was anticipated by outsiders that the defense would make a plea for a new trial.

 At about 2:25 o'clock Sheriff Shipp and Deputy Sheriff Baker entered the room with the negro, surrounded by a large crowd of policemen and special officers.  As the party from the jail entered the door just behind the judge's bench, Judge McReynolds and Attorney General Whitaker entered the room from the court's private office.  W. G. M. Thomas had entered the room and seated himself in the witness chair while Judge Shepherd and other lawyers were close by.
 Judge McReynolds rapped his gavel and then instructed the clerk to call court to order.  When this was done the court asked Mr. Thomas if he had anything to say.  Mr. Thomas arose and walked over to Judge Shepherd, whereupon the latter said that he had nothing to say.  In the meantime Mr. Thomas walked back to the witness box and then in a quiet even but determined voice, he addressed the court.  He said:


 May it Please Your Honor-As your honor knows, at the request of Judge Shepherd, Mr. Cameron and myself, made to your honor this morning, you appointed Messrs, Foster V. Brown, Robert Pritchard and J. H. Cantrell as associate attorneys to advise with us and to assist us in this case, and your honor stated that those three gentlemen met us at that hour, and we spent one and on-half hours together, and have just come form that interview.  It was the judgment of those gentlemen, in view of all the facts and circumstances that Judge Shepherd, Mr. Cameron and I had performed our duty to your honor, to this court and to this defendant, and that if your honor approved the verdict which the jury has rendered, we ought to acquiesce in the finding and conclusion reached by the twelve men composing that jury.

 We feel, your honor, that we have performed our duty as far as we have been able to see it.  A jury composed of the citizens of this county, all of whom are known, and many of whom are my friends and acquaintances, have looked at it and reviewed it impartially and those twelve men have said upon their oaths that this defendant is the right man; and after his conference with  Brown, Pritchard, and Cantrell, we feel that we should acquiesce in the action of the jury; if it is your honor's judgment that the jury's verdict is the correct verdict.  We leave that question for your honor to decided.

 We feel grateful to the people of Chattanooga and this county for the orderly trial through which we have passed.  The times have been restless.  There has been agitation, but the officers of the law of this county and city have protected this defendant and we have had a quiet orderly trial, and after we have performed our duty, as we believe we have, and the jury of twelve of our fellow citizens have, upon their oaths, said that this defendant is the right man, we must leave it to your honor to say whether that verdict meets with your honor's approval.


 Although it seemed several minutes, almost before the echo of Mr. Thomas last words had ceased to reverberate through the corridors of the court house, the court house began his last declaration in the case.  Judge McReynolds said:

 This crime was committed on the night of Jan. 23, and on the 25th two parties were arrested by Sheriff Shipp, the defendant being one of them, and by order of the court they were carried to Nashville for safekeeping, while an investigation as to their guilt or innocence might be made.

 The young lady who was assaulted went to Nashville to see whether or not she could identify either one of these parties as the guilty man.  They were both presented to her at the same times and after viewing them well and hearing them talk she said that she believed the defendant was the guilty party.

 I appointed Mr. Cameron last Saturday week to represent this defendant and on Monday following appointed Judge Shepherd and Mr. Thomas.  I did this in order to see that the defendant might be represented by some of the best legal talent of the bar.   In order to see that no innocent man might be punished, when Capt. Shipp returned from Nashville I requested him to give the defendant's attorneys in detail all the evidence which he had against the defendant.  This he did.  This was done for the purpose of making sure that no innocent man might be punished.  These attorneys took up the defense, went to Nashville to see the defendant and made every investigation into the facts of the case that was possible.

 All the powers of this court and the officers of this court have been rendered the defendant in procuring such witnesses of any one that might reflect light upon the guilty party.  One of the best juries was selected to try this case that I have ever seen in the jury box.  All the witnesses in order that a fair trial might be had.

 This jury composed of some of the best men in the city, after hearing all the evidence in this case, the argument of counsel and charge of the court, report upon their oaths that the defendant is guilty and shall suffer death by hanging.  With the verdict of this jury the court concurs and I have no doubt from the proof in the case that the defendant is the guilty party.

 It therefore becomes my duty to pass sentence of death upon him.

 The court thereupon turned to the defendant, Ed Johnson, and after telling him to stand up, said:

 You have been convicted of one of the most atrocious crimes known to the criminal law and I now ask you have you anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon you?


 Johnson stood up at the command of Judge McReynolds and listened without a tremor to the denunciation of the court.  When he was asked if he had anything to say, his reply was strong and given in a clear voice which penetrated every part of the room.  As he began speaking a smile came over his features and before he had finished he seemed almost on the point of laughing outright.

 "No sir," said the condemned man.  I haven't anything to say.  The jury says that I am guilty and I guess I will have to suffer for what somebody else has done."

 Judge McReynolds then asked Johnson if he felt that he had been given a fair trial.  The negro replied that he knew everything possible had been done for him and that he had no complaint to make.  He then began to repeat his former declaration of innocence.

 Judge McReynolds continued:

 You have been ably represented and every effort has been made to find out the guilty party and as before stated I am satisfied that you are the guilty party.  It is therefore the judgment and sentence of the law and of this court that the sheriff of Hamilton county take and safely keep you in the county jail of said county until Tuesday, March 13, 1906, when within the legal hours and in the manner prescribed by law he shall hang you by the neck until dead, and may God have mercy on your soul."
 Thereupon , with no evident show of emotion, the defendant, looking the court straight in the eye, casually remarked:  "Thank you sir."

 The day set for the execution is four weeks from next Tuesday.  The laws of Tennessee require that every person condemned to die shall be sentenced not less than thirty days or more than sixty days from the time of the execution.  There were many persons yesterday who wanted Johnson hanged at once but such action would be contrary to law.


To the People of Chattanooga:

  I cannot leave my fellow-citizens ignorant of what occurred on yesterday.  If any lawyer for a prisoner and any twelve jurors trying a prisoner should have the sympathy fo the people, that sympathy should be freely given to the jurors and the defendant's attorney's in this case.  What we have suffered: the mental strain we have been under; the weight fo the burden of the responsibility upon us cannot be told.  The horror and awfulness of the last few days are things I hope never again to be called on to endure.

 When the jury brought in a verdict of guilty, we, as the attorneys had to settle the question whether the case would be appealed to the Supreme Court.  I felt that we should not bear that responsibility alone, and I went to Judge McReynolds and asked him to appoint three other lawyers to meet with Judge Shepherd, Mr. Cameron and myself, and counsel and advise with us and help to share with us the responsibility.  Judge McReynolds granted my request and appointed Messrs. Foster V. Brown, Robert Pritchard and J. H. Cantrell, and said to me that those three gentlemen would meet us at the office of Garvin & Cantrell at 1:30 o'clock yesterday afternoon.  We all met at that hour and we were in consultation until 3 o'clock.  The case was reviewed; and our duty and the rights of the defendant were discussed.  The most careful reflection was given to the horrible crime charged against the defendant, and the fact that a jury had, upon their oath, fixed that crime on the accused man.  We discussed the recent mob uprising and the state of unrest in the community.  It was the judgment of all present that the life of the defendant, even if the wrong man, could not be saved that an appeal would so inflame the public that the jail would be attacked and perhaps other prisoners executed by violence.  In the opinion of all of us a case was presented where the defendant, not that he had been convicted by a jury, must die by the judgment of the law, or else, if his case were appealed, he would die by the act of an uprising of the people.

 We discussed the trial, and it was agreed by all that it was quiet and orderly and fair according to the forms of the law, and that no error had been made in the charge or in admitting or excluding evidence.  All were agreed that the jury was one of the best which ever sat in our court house.  Messrs, Brown, Pritchard and Cantrell agreed that Judge Shepherd, Mr. Cameron and I had performed our full duty in our disagreeable task, and that, if a mistake were made and the defendant were not the right man, the mistake was not chargeable to us and the responsibility not on us.  In view of all the conditions, it was the unanimous vote that the law ought to be allowed to take its course fi Judge McReynolds were satisfied with the verdict and if he were to approve it and pass judgment of death on it.

 It was suggested that we ought to go to the jail and see the prisoner and lay the facts before him, and if he demanded an appeal, then he ought to have that right under the law.  Judge Shepherd, Mr. Cameron and I went to the jail and spent a half  hour with the man.  We ask him if he felt that we had performed our duty in his defense, and he answered that he did not know what we could have done for him.  I said:  "Ed we don't know whether you are the guilty man or not; but you and God know.  The jury says you are the man."  His reply was:  "Yes, they have put it on me, and I guess I have to take it, but I ain't guilty."  I then said to him:  "Ed, your life has been saved up to this time, but the people believe now that the jury have acted more than they ever did before, that you are the right man.  They are outraged against you and even if you are innocent, as you say you are, we do not believe that we can save your life."  Judge Shepherd explained to him his right of appeal: that the supreme court met in September next; that an appeal would stay the judgment until that time that we did not see any reasonable grounds to suppose that the supreme court would reverse the sentence and that we feared an appeal would cause mob violence against him.  I asked him if he had ever heard the story of "Old Dog Tray," and he said he had.  I told him that old dog Tray lost his life because he was found in bad company; and I said: "Ed, the Last Chance Saloon, is bad company if you are an innocent man, you, like old dog Tray, were found in bad company.  Old dog Tray lost his life on that account, and it looks like you must lose your life on the same account.  The jury would not believe your bad company.  If you die, Ed, and you are innocent, your bad company will be the thing that kills you, because the jury refused to believe anything they said."

 Without giving all that occurred at the jail, he said to us that he did not want to die by a mob; that he would do as we thought best.  He said he would go over to the courthouse and tell the judge that he did not have anything more to say that that he was not the guilty man.

 I want the people to know that the foregoing facts moved us to allow the law to take its course under the verdict of the jury and the judgment of Judge McReynolds.  Six lawyers settled it in this way after the calmest reflection and under the keenest sense of the great responsibility.

 In view of the awfulness of the crime committed, I beg that the sheriff and every peace officer of Chattanooga and Hamilton county will still try to get all possible further light, and if any person anywhere know anything whatever tending to show or reflect light on either the guilt or innocence of the defendant, I beg that such person make known all that he may know to us or to Attorney General Whitaker.

      W. G. Thomas

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