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The Scottsboro Trials: 1931-37

"no More Picture Snappin' Around Here"

Opening the new trial, Judge William Washington Callahan, 70, dismissed the National Guard. Declaring, "There ain't going to be no more picture snappin' around here," he banned cameras inside or outside the courtroom. He dismissed Leibowitz's motion to quash the indictment because blacks had been systematically excluded from the jury lists—despite testimony by a handwriting expert that names had been fraudulently added to the jury book to make it appear that blacks were listed. He ran a 12-hour day in the courtroom. He destroyed Leibowitz's defense plan by refusing to permit testimony on Victoria Price's sexual activity during the two nights before the train ride. And when he made his charge to the jury, he told them any intercourse between a black man and a white woman was rape, but he omitted—until Leibowitz darted up to the bench and reminded him—the instructions on how to render an acquittal.

Again Patterson was found guilty and the sentence was death. Clarence Norris was next found guilty. But now Leibowitz faced an unexpected challenge: Two ILD lawyers were caught trying to bribe Victoria Price, who had hinted that money could help her change her story. Brodsky told Leibowitz the changed story would have been "good propaganda for the cause." Furious, Leibowitz announced he would withdraw "unless all Communists are removed from the defense." Brodsky capitulated.

Now the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions on the evidence of exclusion of blacks from jury duty. Alabama Governor Bibb Graves responded, "We must put the names of Negroes in jury boxes in every county."

In November 1935, a grand jury of 13 whites and one black brought new indictments. At the fourth trial, in January 1936, Patterson was again found guilty, with the sentence this time 75 years' imprisonment. "I'd rather die," he said.

The next trial was delayed until July 1937. Then Clarence Norris was found guilty and sentenced to death, followed by Andy Wright (99 years) and Charlie Weems (75 years). The rape charge against Ozie Powell was dropped when he pleaded guilty to stabbing a deputy sheriff (during a jail transfer) and received 20 years. Abruptly, prosecutor Thomas Lawson, who had succeeded Knight, proposed no / pros, or dropping of charges, for Olin Montgomery, Roy Wright, Willie Roberson, and Eugene Williams. The Scottsboro trials were over.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940The Scottsboro Trials: 1931-37 - "legal Lynching … Victims Of 'capitalist Justice", "you Can't Mix Politics With Law"