acquittal

The story of a 27 year-old murder.

In August 1912, 17 year-old Nash County boy Lieutenant Hawkins was found stabbed to death on his employer Iredell Williams’ farm near the Wilson County line. His body had lain in a pasture overnight. The Wilmington Morning Star reported that two men, Paul Powell and Oscar Eatmon, were quickly arrested.  

Eatmon was convicted “of having something to do with the killing.” (What?) He served five years in state prison and returned to Wilson. Meanwhile, Paul Powell’s brother Dempsey Powell, also involved in the incident, left the state. When he returned in May 1939 for one of his brothers’ funeral, he was arrested and charged with Hawkins’ murder. 

Wilson Daily Times, 27 May 1939.

A mere five days later, the Nashville Graphic reported that Powell had been acquitted. Eatmon was the star witness. Eatmon, Hawkins, Powell and others had argued on their way home from church. A fight broke out, and Hawkins was slain. Eatmon was taken into custody as a witness, but “at a preliminary hearing talked too much and was arrested in connection with the crime.” Powell  returned to North Carolina about 1933 and saw and talked to Eatmon, but Eatmon had not reported him. When Powell came back in 1939, Eatmon alerted authorities. 

All good until cross examination. Defense attorney I.T. Valentine confronted Eatmon with a sworn statement from the 1912 trial record. Eatmon had testified then that another boy, named Wiggins, had stabbed Hawkins, and Powell had only pulled Wiggins off the victim. After reviewing this bombshell, the judge directed a “not guilty” verdict, and Powell’s ordeal was over. 

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  • Dempsey Powell — in the 1900 census of Jackson township, Nash County, N.C.: Ichabod Powell, 50, farmer; wife Mary A., 50; children Mary A., 20, Martha, 18, Joseph, 16, Margarett, 14, Geneva, 12, Billie P., 11, Dempsey H., 9, and Paul J., 6; and nephew Henry Lassiter, 28. In the 1910 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer William T. Powell, 38; wife Mary, 21; brother-in-law Dempsie, 16; and sister-in-law Martha, 6. On 14 February 1912, Dempsey Powell, 19, of Old Fields township, son of Tom and Clarky Powell, married Bessie Hedgpeth, 18, of Oldfields township, daughter of Dock and Clara Hedgpeth, in Wilson County. [Is this the same Dempsey?]
  • Paul Powell — Paul Powell died 21 July 1966 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 30 May 1894 in Nash County to Jabe [Ichabod] Powell and Mary Ann Lancaster [Lassiter]; lived at 1304 Carolina Street; and was never married. 
  • Oscar Eatmon — in the 1910 census of Jackson township, Nash County, Oscar Eatmon is a 16 year-old farm laborer living with his widower father Jarman Eatmon.
  • Lieutenant Hawkins — in the 1910 census of Jackson township, Nash County, Lieutenant Hawkins is a 14 year-old farm laborer living with his parents Bynum and Julia Hawkins.
  • I.T. Valentine — Itimous Thaddeus Valentine, later an associate justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Pop-bottle blow.

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News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 28 August 1944.

Robert Evans was arrested and charged with murder after flipping a glass bottle back at Walter T. Woodard.

Two weeks later, Evans was free. Judge J.J. Burney had directed a verdict of acquittal — meaning the prosecution has not proved its case under any reasonable interpretation of the facts.

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Wilson Daily Times, 12 September 1944.

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“Blow on head with Bottle Instant death”

The ax slaying of Ollie Richardson.

White farmer Walter Butts split open the head of farm worker Ollie Richardson after an argument. The next day, following a preliminary hearing, a justice of the peace dismissed charges against Butts.

A guide to the article: the lighter text in the second half, beginning “A preliminary hearing …,” is the first edition version. The heavier text at the beginning, which details what happened at the hearing, was inserted later.

In a nutshell, deputy sheriffs responding to the scene arrested Butts and William Moore, an African-American material witness, who was later allowed to post bond. (After all, he was not accused of committing any crime.) Butts did not testify at the hearing the next day. Moore  testified that Butts and Richardson argued, and Richardson said he was going to straighten Butts out and advanced on Butts, but Moore did not actually see anything in Richardson’s hands. “Two Negro girls” testified to something similar. Unnamed others testified that they saw a pitchfork under Richardson’s body after he’d been brained. In other words, there was no actual testimony that Richardson had threatened Butts with a pitchfork before Butts smashed him in the skull with an ax. Nonetheless, a justice of the peace declared the incident a justifiable homicide and let Butts go.

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Wilson Daily Times, 2 July 1946.

In the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Frank Richardson, 28; wife Mary W., 24; and children Lonie, 7, Ollie, 5, Bettie, 3, and Earlie, 1.

In the 1930 census of Wilson Mills township, Johnston County: Frank Richardson, 40; wife Harriet, 27; and children Lonie, 17, Bettie, 16, Ollie, 14, Early, 13, Beatrice, 10, Earnest L., 11, Vernell, 8, Gertrue, 6, Dump, 5, Tobus W., 5, Odel, 6 months, and Rosevelt, 2.

On 23 September 1935, Ollie F. Richardson, 21, of Cross Roads, son of Frank and Mary Richardson, married Crematha Wiggins, 20, of Wilson, daughter of Littleton Wiggins and Annie Royal, in Wilson in the presence of Oscar Eatman, Frank Richardson and Anna H. Royal.

In 1940, Ollie Frank Richardson registered for the World War II in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 20 August 1914 in Wilson; his contact was wife Crematha Richardson; and he worked for Otis Nichols, Bailey, Johnston County.

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Larceny by negresses?

As usual, the 15 January 1924 Wilson Times mined the police blotter to publish titillating filler stories of alleged criminal activity by African-Americans. Here, two black women were arrested and charged with robbing “a Greek” of seventeen dollars. The women had proclaimed innocence, but a search netted $4.30 “concealed in the hair of Naoma.”

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Just below this clip, in the same column, another article — whose title and subtitle consumed as many column inches as the body of the piece — detailed the heavy penalty Mayor Silas R. Lucas imposed upon Norman Roberson for nearly running over a police officer and then cursing the officer out. And then, bizarrely, a paragraph setting out the follow-up to the charge above: “Mamie Roberson and Naomi Bryant, two negro women, charged with robbing Mike Greek were found not guilty and dismissed.”

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Wilson Times, 15 January 1924.

  • Mamie Roberson — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 506 Smith Street, widow Grace Roberson, 32; her cousin Mamie Roberson, 16; and roomer Annie M. Barnes, 16, tobacco factory laborer; all born in South Carolina.
  • Naomi Bryant
  • Norman Roberson — possibly the Norman Robertson, 24, son of Edward and Cherry Robertson of Suffolk, Virginia, who married Dora Hines, 20, daughter of James and Mary Hines, on 10 August 1914. Free Will Baptist minister Robert Dickins performed the ceremony at a Green Street location in the presence of Dock Barnes, Martin Cofield, and John Williams.