Conley Remains Calm Under Grilling Cross-Examination

Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.

Atlanta Constitution
August 6th, 1913


Jim Conley, upon whose story practically the entire result of the Frank case is believed to rest, went on the stand at 9:03 o’clock and when court adjourned for lunch at 12:30 he was still being cross-examined by Luther Rosser for the defense.

The lawyer had reached that point in his cross-fire of questions where he had begun to hector the witness and to take him up whenever he made a mistake, but it appeared that he was only about half through with his work. When the adjournment was taken Conley was still sticking to the main points of his story in a way that was considered remarkable, although he had admitted discrepancies in many of the minor points and had grown confused over them.

When Attorney Rosser started out Monday his manner was mild, but only throughout the afternoon he worked up to a slightly harsher manner. When he began Tuesday he was using his usual rather abrupt tone of voice.

Solicitor Hugh Dorsey and Frank A. Hooper, his colleague, made frequent objections to the manner in which the cross-examination was being conducted and did, to a certain extent, restrain the defense.

“Jim, you made your second statement to Mr. Black and Mr. Scott on a Saturday, didn’t you?” was the first question Mr. Rosser asked.

“I disremembers the day, boss,” replied Conley.

“You told them, though, that you wrote those notes on Friday?”
“Yes, sir, I tole ‘em dat.”

“They they [sic] told you that that wouldn’t do, didn’t they?”
“No, sir, dey didn’t say nothing about that.”

“Didn’t they tell you that it wouldn’t fit in?”
“They didn’t say them words.”

“Are you sure, Jim?”
“Yes, sir, I’m sure.”

“Didn’t Black and Scott tell you it was all rot, that Frank had never had you there Friday?”

“No, sir.”

Not Asked to Change Story.

“Didn’t they try their best on May 27 to make you change your story?”

“No, sir; they never said nothing to me about changin’ my story.”

“They didn’t?”
“No, sir, they sho’ didn’t,” protested the darkey.

“They didn’t tell you anything about changing it?”
“No, sir.”

“You swear to that?”
“Yes, sir, if you want me tuh.”

The above list of questions and answers were only a starter to what followed, the attorney asking each question a dozen times or more, each time changing his wording a little, or compelling the negro to deny it again and again, and finally to say that he would swear to his statements.

By this means Mr. Rosser went over the question of how long the detectives had questioned the negro before he made his final affidavit. Conley never did say how long the detectives had grilled him. He said it was not a whole day, but he would not be more definite than that, although his interrogator mentioned nearly everything by which time is usually measured.

Then Mr. Rosser took up in the same way as before the reason the negro had for not saying right at first that he had got up at about 6 o’clock, instead of declaring that he had got up at 9 o’clock.

Conley Admits Lying.

Conley admitted that he had simply lied about it, and declared that at the time he did not see any use telling about his early rise and his first trip to the factory, as “there wasn’t nothing doing there then and I didn’t see no use mentionin’ it.”

Next came the discrepancies in what the negro had first said he had eaten that morning, and what he had later said he had eaten. According to Mr. Rosser’s notes Conley had first told of eating sausage and in his final statement the negro had said there was sausage on the table, but that he didn’t remember whether or not he ate of it.

By this time Mr. Rosser had worked up to a point where he was showing a sort of fretful impatience every time he caught a discrepancy between the statements even in the smallest detail, and Jim was apparently worried because he had caused this attitude towards himself.

Conley took refuge behind a plea of forgetfulness and Mr. Rosser made him feel that he was simply living about his memory and by certain comments called the attention of the jury to it.

At this point Solicitor Dorsey objected to the commenting, and Judge L. S. Roan held that the cross-examiner could not make any comment.

Mr. Rosser then went over with Conley the amount of beer he had drunk and Conley admitted certain differences in all of his stories about the beer. Then the shrewd attorney, seemingly casting aside all thoughts of the case at issue, entered into a discussion with Conley of the wonderful effect of a night in jail upon a man’s memory and had apparently convinced Jim that the Monday night he had spent in jail was worth more to his mental development than a university education.

“I jes don’t know what you’se talkin’ ‘about a tall,” interrupted the darkey, and then the attorney switched off on other things and had Jim agree without protest this time that in certain points his memory was not as good as on the second day’s examination as it had been on Monday.

The negro had been subjected to an hour’s questioning by this time, and Mr. Rosser had gradually worked up to the point where Frank got back from Montag’s. Conley said this was about 10 o’clock. He also said that Darley had left the factory about 11:30. Mr. Rosser then questioned Conley in great detail about the comings and goings of all the people there that morning, and Conley showed a clear knowledge of this and stuck to his story of the day before.

Says He Made Mistake.

“Didn’t you tell the officers that you saw Mr. Holloway go upstairs that morning, and that a lady in green followed him?”
“Yes,” admitted the negro, “but I made a mistake.”

“How long did you say the lady in green stayed upstairs?”
“A good while,” said Conley.

“What do you mean by a good while?”
“About ten or fifteen minutes.”

Mr. Rosser then fired question after question relating to the negro’s many varying statements to the officers, until finally the solicitor arose and objected to what he termed the “argumentative method” of the cross-examination. The point was sustained, Judge Roan ordering that the “argumentative method” cease.

“Well, you just went on from time to time adding a little more each time to your statement?” said Rosser.

“Yes, sir, I’d jes tell a little more each time,” admitted Jim.

“Why did you tell it that way?”
“Well, boss, I didn’t want to tell any more than I had to.”

“You talked to Mr. Dorsey seven times in all before you had taken back all the untruths and finally told the whole truth, didn’t you?” urged the attorney, putting a slightly sarcastic emphasis on the “whole truth.”

“No, sir, I told it all before that,” said Conley, patiently.

The jury, the defendant and the witness were then allowed to leave the room for a five-minute recess. It was then 10:45.

“You first told the officers that you went to a moving picture show that Saturday, didn’t you?” asked Mr. Rosser, when the cross-examination started again.

Solicitor Again Upheld.

Mr. Dorsey objected that if the defense wanted to impeach the witness or even trap him that they ought to produce the affidavits if there were any, or ought at least to state the specific time and place referred to in the conversation.

“Well, Jim,” said Mr. Rosser when Judge Roan upheld the solicitor, “on May 28, in the presence of Messrs. Starnes and Campbell, in Atlanta, Ga., Fulton county, didn’t you say that on the Saturday of the murder in the city, state and county above mentioned, went to a moving picture show?”

The irony went over the negro’s head, but caused even the state’s attorneys to smile, and Conley solemnly answered.

“I told ‘em I went and stood in front of a picture show and looked at what I could from the outside.”

“You say Mr. Dorsey visited you seven times?”
“No, sir, I said he did about dat many times,” replied Jim.

“Well, he either visited you or you visited him all together about seven times, you just paid each other calls, didn’t you?”
“I reckon so, boss,” said Conley.

“Well, of course, Jim, I don’t mean that they were social calls, just calls for the purposes of the case.”

I spose you’se right,” replied the negro.

Rosser Fastens on Discrepancy.

Then, after taking Jim up because he first said he and Mr. Frank went into the factory together and afterwards said that Mr. Frank went in and he followed right behind him, Mr. Rosser asked him a score of detailed questions about the locking of the front door.

“I locked it,” said Jim.

“About what time?”
“I don’t know, sir.”

“Was it 12 o’clock?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Was it 1 o’clock?”
“Well, it couldn’t have been 1 o’clock, because afterwards, when I got upstairs and looked at the olock [sic] it was four minutes to one.”

Mr. Rosser then began to go over with the negro the latter’s testimony on the previous day, and referring to a transcript from his direct testimony on the stand Monday, called his attention to certain discrepancies between his statement on the stand and the final affidavit he had made.

Mr. Hooper here entered the objection that the negro’s testimony on the stand Monday had now become written evidence, and that the cross-examiner should be forced to allow the witness to read it or to read it to him, before he questioned him about it.

Mr. Hooper won his point, the judge holding that Mr. Rosser, however, could ask the negro what he had said about any particular thing.

“Well, your honor,” said Mr. Hooper, “my brother here is asking this witness questions now on what he said yesterday, but he is asking what he said after this and what after that, and it would be a superhuman task for any person, let alone an ignorant one, to tell in regular sequence all that he said the day before.”

“This witness stood up here yesterday and gave a parrot-like statement, and all I want to do is to show that he cannot repeat that parrot-like story again today,” said Mr. Rosser, “and I’ve already shown it in one instance.”

Judge Roan upheld Mr. Hooper.

Negro Causes Amusement.

After some further questions the attorney asked the witness what were the words that Frank had used when they met at Forsyth and Nelson streets that Saturday.

“Mr. Frank, he jes’ say, ‘Ha, ha, ha, ha; you’se here is yer,’” replied Conley.

For about six times the attorney made the witness repeat this, but Conley said it in the same words and even the same tone all the time, and finally Mr. Rosser asked how many “ha’s” there were in that statement.

Conley repeated it again, and by this time the spectators were keeping the deputies busy, and Mr. Rosser asked the negro to count the number of “ha’s.” He could not say them and count them at the same time, and the lawyer repeated the words while Jim counted.

“Dey’s two, boss,” said Jim.

“I thought there was four ‘ha’s,’ Jim,” objected Mr. Rosser.

“Well, I count ‘ha-ha’ as one and ‘ha-ha’ as the other,” replied Jim, “and that makes two.”

“Oh, you count them as double words,” replied the lawyer, and apparently a great light was arising in his mind.

“I don’t know what no ‘double words’ is,” replied Conley, “but you asked me to count de ‘ha’s,’ and I counted dem.”

Still the negro, while apparently puzzling his brain over all this business of “ha-has,” did not appear rattled, and the attorney took up a detailed questioning about how Frank had showed Conley about locking the front door when he sat on watch duty for him.

Conley Remains Cool.

Then came the question for the second time in the morning of who the people were that were said to have visited the factory that Saturday before 1 o’clock, and, despite question after question, Conley remained cool, and again and again gave the same version of the comings and goings on that day.

Next Mr. Rosser entered into a discussion with Conley about the front door being left unlocked, and the attorney seemed to be paving the way for a claim that a third party had entered the building and committed the crime without either Frank or the negro sweeper being aware of their presence.

By the time of adjournment Mr. Rosser had got to the place in the negro’s story where he and Frank were bearing away the body, and on each point he asked the negro scores of questions about the real happenings, and also about what he had declared about that point in his various affidavits.

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Atlanta Constitution, August 6th 1913, “Conley Remains Calm Under Grilling Cross-Examination,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)