In one of the most famous legal cases of the century, nine black teenagers, who became known as "the Scottsboro Boys," were arrested in 1931 for raping two white women on a train traveling through Alabama -- crimes they clearly did not commit. Most went through numerous trials, but one of them, Haywood Patterson, was tried, convicted and sentenced to death -- three times. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the first and third convictions and a local judge set aside the second. Patterson was tried and convicted for a fourth time in 1936, after which the Supreme Court failed to intercede. He escaped from prison in 1948 only to be arrested and charged with murder after a barroom fight in 1950. He died in jail the following year. An excerpt from The Post of Dec. 2, 1933:
Decatur, Ala., Dec. 1 (AP). --
The third verdict of death was returned today against Heywood Patterson, 21-year-old Negro, one of seven [remaining] defendants in the "Scottsboro case," for an alleged attack on a white woman on a freight train.
In a courtroom so quiet the sound of men breathing could be heard, Walter Green, clerk of the court, read the verdict:
"We the jury find the defendant guilty as charged and fix his punishment at death."
The Negro, who twice before has heard identical words read in his case, appeared unmoved.
He was tried on an indictment charging an attack on Mrs. Victoria Price, aboard a Southern freight train on March 25, 1931.
There was not the slightest sign of a demonstration and the spectators, who occupied every available seat, waited until the jury, which was discharged by Judge W.W. Callahan immediately, had filed from the courtroom.
The noise of shifting feet, coughs, and low talk that made a medley of sound had stopped instantly as the knock on the room adjoining the court, where the jury had been deliberating, sounded in the courtroom.
Judge W.W. Callahan was preparing to swear in a jury, just selected for the trial of Clarence Norris, second of the defendants to be called on charges of attacking Mrs. Price, a Huntsville mill worker, when the knock sounded at 5 p.m., and it was 10 minutes later before the jury, grave of face and slow of step, filed in.
Patterson had been brought from the jail, surrounded by six deputy sheriffs, and sat watching intently as the new jury was sworn. ...
Both Negroes were removed from the courtroom after the verdict was read before the crowd was permitted to move.
Samuel S. Leibowitz, of New York, chief of counsel retained by the International Labor Defense in behalf of the Negroes, asked when Judge Callahan would pass sentence and announced he would file a motion for a new trial which, if denied, would be a step toward the United States Supreme Court. ...
The testimony in the Norris trial was expected to be largely the same as that in the Patterson trial since each side has called the same witnesses.
The defense, however, has interrogatories from Ruby Bates, who was the companion of Mrs. Price on a hobo trip on which the attacks were alleged to have occurred and who last spring made a sensational appearance in Patterson's second trial to repudiate her former testimony, that she was molested by the defendant.