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et al. United States v. Shipp: 1907-09

A Near Lynching And A Trial

Word of Johnson's arrest spread quickly. A large crowd gathered at the front of Hamilton County Jail, where they thought Johnson was being held. Men with sledgehammers smashed at the hinges on the heavy front door of the jail, but the men were not able to get in. In fact, Johnson had been sent to Nashville earlier that evening.

On January 27, Nevada Taylor traveled to Nashville and identified Ed Johnson as her attacker. However, it was a less than certain identification. That same day, a grand jury was convened and an indictment was returned within two hours. Through it all, Johnson maintained that he was innocent.

The trial of Ed Johnson opened on February 6, 1906. Three local attorneys, including Lewis Shepherd, one of Chattanooga's most prominent defense attorneys, defended him. The first witness for the prosecution was Nevada Taylor. Prosecutor Matt Whitaker asked Taylor if the man who attacked her was in the courtroom.

"I believe he is the man," said Taylor, pointing to Ed Johnson.

Will Hixon also testified and told the jurors that he saw Johnson "with a strap in his hand near the scene of the crime." The state also called Sheriff Joseph Shipp, who recounted the investigation for the jury.

The defense opened their case with Ed Johnson taking the stand. Johnson denied raping Taylor and said he spent the evening of January 23 working as a pool room porter at the Last Chance Saloon between 4:30 P.M. and 10 P.M.The defense then called 13 witnesses to the stand who swore they saw Johnson at the Last Chance Saloon around the time that the rape occurred. The defense also called several witnesses to the stand who attacked the credibility of Will Hixon.

The most dramatic event of the Johnson trial occurred on its last day. At the request of jurors, Nevada Taylor was recalled to the stand. Juror J. L. Wrenn stood and asked Taylor, "Miss Taylor, can you state positively that this Negro is the one who assaulted you?" Taylor answered, "I will not swear he is the man, but I believe he is the Negro who assaulted me." Wrenn, still not satisfied, asked again: "In God's name, Miss Taylor, tell us positively—is that the guilty Negro? Can you say it? Can you swear it?" With tears streaming down her face, Taylor replied, "Listen to me. I would not take the life of an innocent man. But before God, I believe this is the guilty Negro." At that point another juror rose and lunged in the direction of Johnson. As fellow jurors restrained him, he shouted out, "If I could get at him, I'd tear his heart out right now."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917et al. United States v. Shipp: 1907-09 - An Arrest Is Made, A Near Lynching And A Trial, A Guilty Verdict And Lynching