Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.
July 31st, 1913
Although the State’s witnesses were on the stand all of Wednesday the day was distinctly favorable for Frank, partly because nothing distinctly unfavorable was developed against him—the burden of proof being upon the State—but most largely because of two other factors, the utter collapse of the testimony of one of the State’s star witnesses, City Detective John Black, and the testimony in favor of Frank that was given by another of the State’s witnesses, Miss Grace Hix, a 16-year-old factory employee.
Girl Helps Frank.
Miss Hix testified that the strands of hair found on the lathing machine on the second floor might have been the hair of one of the other girls in the factory, many of whom when they were ready to leave the factory at night, combed their hair right where they had been working. She said that Magnolia Kennedy’s hair was almost exactly the color of Mary Phagan’s. She also said that the red spots on the second floor might be paint. She never saw Frank attempt any familiarities with the girls.
Black was made the uncomfortable victim of the fiercest grilling any of the witnesses in the Frank trial have received up to this time.
Luther Rosser, chief of counsel for Frank, tore into Black the instant the city detective was turned over to him for cross-examination.
Within the space of 30 seconds the attorney had Black unmistakably bewildered, although the detective tried his best to stick to the details of the story he had just narrated under Solicitor Dorsey’s questioning.
In another 30 seconds Rosser continued his bulldog tactics and had Black practically admitting that he had told an untruth under oath, and that although a moment before he had sworn that he had seen Rosser at the police station between 8 and 8:30 o’clock the Monday morning after the crime, he now was not sure that it was not 10 or 10:30.
Rosser, seeking to discredit Black’s previous testimony and his memory, drove Black to admit that he could not remember any of the details of Frank’s attire the morning that Black visited the Frank home, and that he was not sure at all that Frank could not have seen the face of the Phagan girl when he visited the morgue Sunday morning.
Black swore when Dorsey was questioning him that Frank put on his collar, tie and coat on the first floor of his home, but when Rosser got hold of him he was just as willing to admit that it might have been in the cellar or on the roof, and the remainder of his testimony became shaky to the same extent.
Taking up a number of the details of Black’s testimony on direct examination, Rosser made the perspiring detective admit that he was not certain of a single one of them. None too fluent and assured under the friendly interrogation of the Solicitor General, Black instantly became halting and confused when Rosser let loose with his fire of disconcerting questions.
The detective’s features flushed crimson. He mopped his face which was running with perspiration. Then he held his handkerchief up by two of its corners to dry in the breeze from an electric fan. Before he could accomplish this, it must be applied again to his liquid features.
He tripped and stumbled over his answers. He became hopelessly muddled as to times and conversations. He was groping, but his memory turned traitor.
The “Plant” Story.
The climax came when Solicitor Dorsey came out with his declarations that the bloody shirt found at Newt Lee’s home was a “plant,” and that it was inspired by Frank or persons interested in Frank. He said that he intended to show that Black had gone to Lee’s home to make a search only after Frank had informed him that several punches were missing from the time tape taken out of the register clock, and that Lee would have had time to go home between punches. The Solicitor added that he proposed to show that the only interpretation of Herbert Haas’ demand for a search of Frank’s house was in order to open up the way for a search of Lee’s house by the detectives.
It took only a few moments to demonstrate that the Solicitor was leaning on a broken reed. Black already had passed through the ordeal of more than an hour’s grilling by Rosser and Dorsey had him in the redirect. Black gave only a half-hearted and half-certain assent to Dorsey’s inquiry if these circumstances did not transpire before the search of Lee’s house.
But when Rosser charged at him again even this fragment of memory and assurance had departed from him.
“Don’t you know, Black, that, as a matter of fact, that shirt was found before Frank ever said anything to you about the misses in that time tape?” Rosser bellowed at the red-faced, wilting detective.
Waited Six Minutes.
Black opened his mouth, but no answer came forth.
“Don’t you know it?” persisted the lawyer.
Still no answer.
Rosser drew his watch from his pocket and held it on the witness. Six minutes passed and the silence continued. Judge Roan started to speak.
“Give him time to answer, your honor,” interrupted Rosser grimly, still holding the watch.
“I don’t remember,” finally came from the lips of the witness.
A moment later Black gave up.
“I’m all crossed up,” he said. “I don’t know where I’m at.”
“Come down,” he said.
“Come down,” echoed the Solicitor.
J. M. Gantt, discharged employee of the pencil factory, followed Black on the stand. Gantt’s most important piece of testimony was that Frank, contrary to the representations he made the morning after the murder, knew Mary Phagan by name.
He knew this, he said, because one day when he had been talking with the Phagan girl Frank said to him: “You seem to know Mary pretty well, Gantt.”
Rosser brought out in his cross-examination of Gantt that the young man had failed to tell of this alleged incident when he was before the Coroner’s jury when he was asked if Frank knew the girl.
Say Frank Was Nervous.
The bulk of the State’s evidence Wednesday was only for the purpose of showing that Frank was nervous, trembling and pale on the afternoon of the tragedy and the next morning when he was taken to the morgue and to the factory by the detectives. Gantt testified that Frank seemed nervous and apprehensive Saturday night at 6 o’clock when Gantt went to the factory to get some shoes he had left there when discharged. “Boots” Rogers and Detectives Starnes and Black testified that he acted in a nervous and agitated manner the next morning. Rogers and Black declared that Frank would not look on the face of the dead girl when they took him to the undertaking rooms.