Melvin Little: The trial turned out to be… a little… unusual.
Henry Russell: Was it a circus? Yeah, I’d say so.
Judge Spencer: Of course I barred television cameras from the courtroom, but I allowed the front row to be filled by reporters because I thought their presence would help the attorneys behave. As it turns out I was mistaken.
Henry Russell: There was a constant murmur in the courtroom, and occasionally people would laugh at something that was said. I made the crowd laugh more than a few times, and I know Melvin tried to do the same.
Melvin Little: I know for a fact I got more laughs than he did.
Judge Spencer: The trial was rather unorthodox, but the fact of the matter is, the insanity defense allows a great deal of leeway for the defendant. Things that normally wouldn’t be allowed become admissible.
Henry Russell: Basically, my hands were tied behind my back.
Melvin Little: When I defended him, Reverend Baxter never had to face a jury. Somehow or other, the case would always fall apart. Now, with the Lester Woods trial, I had to take up some unusual tactics. I admitted right away that Lester killed the man. Never disputed any of Henry Russell’s evidence. I even admitted some of his exhibits for the defense. I had to change things around a bit.
Henry Russell: Oh he changed things around alright.
Melvin Little: One of the first things you learn as a trial lawyer is to put someone else on trial other than the defendant, so that’s what I did.
Henry Russell: Reverend Baxter himself was prosecuted by his own damned lawyer at the trial of the man who killed him. It was a travesty and a joke. I remember, at one point, Melvin got a guy on the stand—had nothing to do with this case whatsoever, but the judge let him up there—who said the Reverend had tried to hire him to kill his stepdaughter.
Alvin Thomas: I had worked for the Reverend cutting pulpwood for a month or two, and then about a year later he came up to see me. He said if I did him one favor, I’d never have to work again. He said he’d buy me a car, a house, you name it. I asked, “What is it you want me to do?” The Reverend said, “Not much. There’s this girl about to run off and get married. I need her dead before she does that.” I said, “I don’t want to kill nobody.” He said, “Naw, she’ll be dead before you ever see her. Just put her in a car for me—he had this Ford Torino he was going to use—and bang yourself up a bit—give yourself a few scratches—and then run the car into a ditch. It’s the easiest money you ever made.” I told him I have to think about it. He said, “You can think, but don’t talk if you know what’s good for you.” My wife called the police and they came down and made a report, but nothing came of it. Then my cousin went to the girl’s wake and told the family.
Melvin Little: The police had all the information they needed to help that poor girl. The DA had the police report in his files.
Henry Russell: I never received such a report.
Melvin Little: I was able to show that the statement was related to the defendant. It all went to his state of mind. Of course, I had psychologists testify to his condition. They determined that he was diseased of the mind at the time of the shooting.
Henry Russell: As far as I could tell, the tests all showed he was normal, but somehow these jokers made up a diagnosis, Transient Psychosis, or some such nonsense. One of these “psychologists” was nothing more than a glorified guidance counselor.
Dr. Albert Wexler: I have a bachelor’s of psychology from Florida State University, a Master’s of Psychology at the University of Texas. I earned my doctorate in abnormal psychology from…
Henry Russell: They think they can learn about humans by testing little white mice.
Dr. Albert Wexler: I don’t have any mice.
Henry Russell: (Shaking his head) He based his whole diagnosis on talking to the defendant twice!
Dr. Albert Wexler: I based my diagnosis on Mr. Woods’s description of event before, during, and after the shooting, my observations, and the results of his psychological examinations.
Henry Russell: The man confessed!
Melvin Little: Lester made a statement in the police car after he was in custody.
Henry Russell: He said, “I’m glad I did it. If I had to do it over, I’d do it again.” Sounds pretty rational to me.
Melvin Little: The judge ruled, rightfully, that any statements made prior to Lester’s receiving the Miranda were inadmissible.
Henry Russell: I curse the day the Supreme Court handed down that decision.
Melvin Little: Of course that didn’t stop the esteemed district attorney from trying to sneak it in, so the jury could hear.
Excerpt from Trial Transcript
Henry Russell: Officer Murphy, at any time while you had Lester Woods in custody, did you hear him make any statements…
Melvin Little: Now, wait just a minute, Mr. Russell. The judge has ruled—
Henry Russell: …any statement from the defendant…
Melvin Little: Now, you wait a minute, Henry. You shut up right now!
Henry Russell: Go to hell!
Melvin Little: I probably will.
Henry Russell: Nobody tells me to shut up.
Melvin Little: I’m surprised neither one of us got thrown in jail for that one.
Henry Russell: I still thought I had him though, on account of the gun. Bringing a gun into the chapel meant that the murder was clearly premeditated. Who brings a gun to a funeral?
Melvin Little: Lester had a permit signed by the sheriff allowing him to carry a concealed weapon.
Patricia Woods (Wife of the defendant): Lester carried the gun everywhere he went. I testified to that effect. At one point the judge even looked at me and said, “Even to church?” And I said, “Everywhere.”
Henry Russell: It was the character witnesses that set him free. That and the fact that my hands were tied. When Elizabeth Abbott got on the stand and told how she pulled Lester’s name out of a pen pal program when he was over in Vietnam, and she read the letter he sent back to her in ’68—right at the start of the Tet offensive, and he described life over there, routine search and destroy missions and all that, and at the time of the letter he was bracing for an attack at any minute, actually thinking he might die, and yet he said he believed in what they were doing over there—when the jury heard that, I knew it was over. There wasn’t any way they were going to convict that man. I was hoping at that point for manslaughter. I didn’t even get that.
Judge Spencer: I sent the jury back four or five times and the last time I threatened to keep them sequestered for another week or until they reached a verdict. They came back fifteen minutes later. Not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. I then remanded him to the state psychiatry center for evaluation.
Henry Russell: He went in one door and came right out the other.
Melvin Little: They evaluated him for a few weeks and he was released.
Henry Russell: Of course all the tests showed he was normal, just as they did for the first group of psychologists. The man was as sane as anyone. I now have the unhappy distinction of failing to convict a man who executed his victim in front of two hundred witnesses. I’m not sure I’ll ever live that down.
Melvin Little: It was a triumph of the justice system and for racial relations in the state. A black man in Alabama was exonerated by twelve white men. If it was in a story, you wouldn’t believe it, but it’s true.
Henry Russell: It’s sad, but true.
Chapter 36 will post within two weeks
About This Novel; Chapter 1Chapter 2; Chapter 3Chapter 4; Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7; Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11; Chapter 12; Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16; Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20 Chapter 21; Blood Cries at the Half-Way PointChapter 22; Chapter 23Chapter 24; Chapter 25Chapter 26; Chapter 27Chapter 28; Chapter 29Chapter 30; Chapter 31Chapter 32Chapter 33Chapter 34