Martha Nathan, whose husband and four other Communist Workers Party members were gunned down Nov. 3 at their "Death to the Klan" rally here, jumped to her feet today as the judge instructed jurors at the opening of the murder trial to deliberate fairly and impartially."
"This trial is a sham and a farce!" Nathan shouted. "The U.S. Government conspired with the Nazis and the Klan to. . .murder my husband."
As the all-white jury was hustled out of earshot, Nathan refused an order from Superior Court Judge James Monroe Long to keep quiet and was gagged and charged with comtempt of court.
Asked later if she had any defense for disrupting the proceedings, she said, "My husband was murdered."
"That's no excuse," responded Long.
Nathan and Florence Cauce, whose husband also was fatally shot that November day, each were sentenced to 30 days in jail for courtroom outbursts.
The incidents inside the tense, windowless courtroom -- about two miles from the site of the shooting and around the corner from a movie theater showing "Revenge of the Patriots" -- underscored one fact that the defense and prosecution agreed upon at the outset: This is a politically loaded trial.
Four avowed Kansmen and two nazis are each charged with five counts of first-degree murder and one count of felonious rioting. In an up-coming trial, five CWP members are charged with rioting.
If the Nazis and Klansmen go free and the communists to jail it would lend a flavor of self-fulfilling prophecy to the rhetoric fired here today by the communists.
The outcome depends on the jurors' ability to divorce themselves from their feelings about the extremist politics of both sides.
"You are not here to choose between competing ideologies, but to determine if the defendants are guilty of the crimes for which they are indicted," Long said as Nathan, and then Cauce, interrupted the proceedings.
While Greensboro police SWAT teams patrolled the courthouse roof today, the communists engaged in mild guerrilla warfare inside, setting off a false fire alarm, unleashing a stink bomb in the court and vowing to ignore any subpoenas to testify.
The general facts of the case are not likely to be disputed.
There were many eyewitnesses -- including television reporters and print journalists -- at the rally scene, a dingy black public housing project where the Nazi-Klan caravan rolled to a halt, shooting broke out and five communists died.
What attorneys disputed today in their opening statements was who had attacked whom.
Assistant Distict Attorney Jim Coman said the prosecution would prove that the six defendants had set out to murder the communists in cold blood, rather than merely to disrupt the anti-Klan rally.
There were weapons in the van driven by Klansman Lawrence Gene Morgan, 27, a Lincolnton, N.C., machine operator, and in the car driven by Nazi Jack Wilson Fowler, 28, a Wiston-Salem laborer, Coman said pointing at two of the six defendants.
"The defendants went there for the sole purpose of disrupting the rally, prepared to do everything from throw eggs to shoot to kill," said Coman. "If their only reason was to protest what the CWP had to say, why did they have to come armed to the teeth?"
But attorney Robert Cahoon, who is defending Nazi Roland Wayne Wood, 35, argued that the events of Nov. 3 "did not occur in a vacuum," that the seeds had been planted at an earlier Klan rally in China Grove, N.C., that the communists had disrupted. Later, Cahoon said, the communists taunted the Klansmen, calling them "scum and cowards" and daring them to appear at the Nov. 3 "Death to the Klan" rally.
Moreover, the KKK-Nazi caravan was lured into a well-planned ambush, characterized by gunfire from roof-tops and trees that forced its members to return heavy fire in self-defense, attorneys for the defendants argued.
Also on trial for murder are Klansmen Jerry Paul Smith, 32, a self-employed logger from the Lincolnton area; David Wayne Matthews, 24, of nearby Newton, N.C., who is recovering from heart surgery, and Colman Blair (Johnny) Pridmore, 37, a Lincolntown textile worker.
All the defendants are high school dropouts whose lives revolved around blue-collar frustration, earning little more than the minimum wage.
The slain communists were well-educated, college graduates like Michael Nathan, 32, a doctor devoted to radical political causes who never left behind his protest days at Duke University.
Greensboro detective J.H. (Rooster) Cooper, who folloed the KKK-Nazi caravan to the shooting site, testified today that he saw Jack Fowler raise a semi-automatic rifle and fire in the direction of several victims. J. T. Matthews, a local police pohotographer who accompanied Cooper that day, corrobrated most of Cooper's testimony and identified David Wayne Matthews as the man he saw pumping rifle fire into a crowd.
The Greensboro police were criticized for arriving late at the demonstation scene and allowing the fatal shooting to occur.
"Some of the things you will hear won't be flattering to the state of North Carolina," said Assistant District Attorney Coman, apparently referring, in addition, to recent disclosures that a federal agent infiltrated the Nazis and allegedly urged them to commit illegal acts, including carrying weapons to the Nov. 3 rally.