When Bruce and I arrived at the Sampson home the next morning, Robert and Lillie were sitting on the porch with their minister, Reverend Pickard. Robert stood and gave me his seat. He is such a thoughtful boy. My husband, Bruce, is an attorney. He told them what he knew. Before leaving our home, Bruce received a phone call from Jimmy Buck. He is one of the deputies and one of Bruces’ friends. Bruce began.
“Larry reported that Chris and Torrence robbed the bank.”
Lillie began to cry and Robert insisted that Larry had to be mistaken.
“Chris and Torrence have basketball practice at Carver Central High after school. Carver is no where near the bank.”
Robert asked Bruce if he would help them with this case. We agreed.
Chris and Torrence spent two days in jail before bail could be posted. I believe that the only reason why bond was even set is because Lillie and Robert are decent colored folks who are making positive contributions to the community. The case went immediately to trial, which is the usual process for colored cases. The court room was filled to capacity. It seemed like a scene out of the Harper Lee book, To Kill a Mockingbird. The judge asked Bruce if the boys were pleading guilty? Bruce emphatically, yet respectfully, replied.
“No your honor. We believe that this is a case of mistaken identity. These young men were at Carver Central High school at the time of the robbery. We believe that Larry saw two colored boys running out of the bank. We do not believe that the robbers were Chris and Torrence.”
The prosecution basically said that Larry, who is an upstanding white citizen in the community, stated that he saw these two colored boys running out of the bank after it had been robbed and that there were witnesses present that would agree with Larrys’ testimony. He also said that he believed that this was an open and shut case.
After the opening arguments, Earl Harris, the prosecuting attorney, called Larry to the stand and he gave his testimony about seeing the boys running out of the bank. Bruce cross-examined Larry. He asked Larry if he saw the two colored boys faces? Larry said he did not see their faces but they looked like Robert Sampsons’ sons from the back. Harris called Bubba, the bank security guard, to the stand. Bubba testified that the two colored boys accused looked like the two that robbed the bank. Bruce then asked him how he became unconscious. Bubba reluctantly said that sometimes he faints when he gets over excited. Bruce then went on to clarify that Bubba was not knocked unconscious. He merely fainted from fear. There were chuckles and low murmuring. Attorney Harris made an objection. The judge overruled the objection because we all knew that Bubba faints when he is afraid. I still don’t see why he chose a job that requires bravery. Harris then called Lois, the bank teller, to the stand. Lois testified that she was not sure that the robbers were Chris and Torrence. She was certain that the robbers were colored because she saw their hands. Lois stated that she was too terrified to look in their faces. We could see that Harris was not happy with the testimony that Lois gave. Bruce declined to cross examine Lois. The prosecution rested and Bruce began his defense. He called Levi Cuch, the coach of the Carver Central High basketball team, to the stand. He was a tall colored man who was once a star player at Carver High years ago. Bruce asked him if the boys were at practice. Coach said that they were and he distinctly remembered.
“Chris was goofing off during practice. I made him run fifty laps around the court. Torrence was practicing his lay ups while Chris did his laps.”
Harris asked in his cross examination, if Chris and Torrence had ever gotten into trouble at school before? Coach responded.
“Boys will be boys. They get into the usual trouble for talking too much in class and cutting up during practice. Nothing more serious than that.”
Bruce continued his defense by calling on Old Lady Pierce to the stand. Harris objected because he did not see why Bruce would need to call her. Bruce told the judge that Widow Pierce could testify that the boys were passing her home at their usual time on basketball practice days. Old Lady Pierce slowly climbed on the stand to take the seat. She greeted the judge and everyone else in the court room. She was a retired school teacher. She taught practically every white child in our community. Bruce asked Widow Pierce about the character of the Sampson boys.
“They seem like good boys. I still watch them all the same. My Daddy always told me that colored have to be watched, no matter how obedient they are or how good they behave. I watch them every day they pass my house. That day Torrence stopped in front of my rose bush and I stood up to see what he was doing. I saw that he was tying his shoe. When he finished tying it, he stood up, greeted me, and moved on.”
Bruce asked about the whereabouts of Chris. Widow Pierce said that the boys were there together. The judge asked Harris if he wanted to cross examine Widow Pierce? He said yes.
“Widow Pierce, were you wearing your glasses the afternoon the stopped in front of your rose bush? “
“Yes, I did have them on but I can see just as well without them. I am old. Not blind.”
There was a slight chuckle in the court room. Harris having no more witnesses to call for the prosecution and Whitville had not more questions for the defense, the judge called it a day.
“We will adjourn for the day and reconvene for closing arguments in the morning.”
To be continued.