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John Marshall Branion Trial: 1968

Imperfect Alibi, Illicit Love, On The Run

Name of Defendant: John Marshall Branion, Jr.
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyer: Maurice Scott
Chief Prosecutor: Patrick A. Tuite
Judge: Reginald J. Hoizer
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Dates of Trial: May 15-28, 1968
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: 20-30 years

SIGNIFICANCE: The murder conviction of John Marshall Branion, Jr., a prominent black doctor and confidant of Martin Luther King, Jr., was achieved without a single scrap of direct proof, demonstrating that, occasionally, circumstantial evidence is the best evidence of all.

The case of John Branion reads like a best-selling mystery thriller. First there was the crime itself, tortuous, full of twists, and ultimately hinging on one issue: Did the defendant's alibi allow him sufficient time to carry out a murder? And then came the trial, riddled with allegations of racial prejudice and possible judicial corruption. Most extraordinary of all was Branion's flight after conviction. Was he, as some claim, an innocent man escaping injustice, or was this rather the tale of a pitiless killer, desperately fleeing the consequences of his actions?

At 11:30 A.M. on December 22, 1967, Dr. John Branion set off in his car from the Ida Mae Scott Hospital on Chicago's South Side. Five minutes later—after passing his home—he picked up his 4-year-old son from outside a nursery school, then called on a Maxine Brown, who was to have lunch with Branion and his wife. When Brown explained that she was unable to keep the engagement, Branion drove to his apartment at 5054 S. Woodlawn Avenue. His story was that he had arrived at 11:57 A.M. and found his wife Donna lying on the floor of the utility room. She had been shot four times by a. 38-caliber automatic pistol. Branion immediately summoned help.

Police treated Branion's story with palpable disdain; already witnesses were coming forward to dispute his version of events. Another factor was Branion's unpalatable detachment. Just two days after his wife's murder he flew to Vail, Colorado, for a Christmas break.

One month later, armed with a search warrant, police recovered two boxes of Geco brand. 38-caliber ammunition from a closet in Branion's apartment. One full box contained 25 shells. The other box had 4 shells missing, the same number that had killed Donna Branion. Shortly afterwards Branion was arrested for murder.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972