Conley’s Glibness May Prove Unfortunate for His Testimony

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

Atlanta Journal
August 4th, 1913

Negro’s Recitative Manner of Telling His Story Gives Impression That He Has Rehearsed It Many Times

Jim Conley Monday morning recited his story to the Frank jury.

Newt Lee last week told his.

Above all other things, Jim’s testimony was glib.

Newt’s was deliberate.

For more than an hour Jim spoke smoothly, evenly, unhesitatingly to the jury, as though his story had been polished by careful rehearsal to himself.

Scarcely once was he interrupted. Solicitor Dorsey’s only warning was slower speech. Jim’s story came so readily to his lips that he spoke faster than the jury could follow. He never paused. Incidents which he alleged to have happened months ago were told by him as though they were vivid and fresh in his memory.

No witness since the trial began has been so glib of speech as Jim. None has given such minute details. None has inclined so much to dramatic incidents.

He showed none of a negro’s difficulty in putting thoughts into words. All that he had to say came readily to his lips. Where Newt had paused and thought to make sure to convince himself he was making no mistake—Jim talked without pause. Even the smallest details were fitted into his story without one instant’s hesitation.

The “dids” and “dat” of life bounds his knowledge—so Jim says—and reading is a task beyond him. But if that were otherwise, and a written statement had been in Jim’s hands he could have read it no more glibly than he spoke his testimony.

He would lean over a bit toward the jury, and, in as even a voice as though he were telling a pleasant story, he would give incidents of the Phagan murder, as he swears it happened.

“Mr. Frank dropped down into the elevator and hit against my shoulder. When we got out Mr. Frank put his arms around me, and held to me tight. He was frightened. When I left I bought a sandwich and a double-header. On Peters street I paid a Jew a dime.”

And so on, he went, not for a minute pausing, giving the most minute happenings, throwing in bits of color, repeating snatches of conversation, adding to the effectiveness of his tale by furnishing a background of description—telling it all as glibly as as though it were written out before him.

Newt Lee had given force and conviction to his story by his appearance of honesty, by his deliberate and downright manner.

But Jim gave testimony which was characterized on the other hand by unhesitating glibness.

Once he said:

“Mr. Frank clasped his hands and looked up to the ceiling and asked: “Why should I hang. I have wealthy people in Brooklyn?”

Jim clasped his own hands and raised his eyes to the ceiling.

But glibness had robbed this statement and bit of illustration of their force. Too much directness had dulled the edge of this part of Jim’s testimony; and his ready words had the same effect in other instances.

Jim’s story was so completely at the tip of his tongue—even the minute things—that his testimony had a recitative air.

A change came at the end of his story and the beginning of Attorney Rosser’s cross-examination.

Jim sat silent at first before questions of his employment, his age, his knowledge of reading and writing. His glibness forsook him for the time. Simple questions confused him.

But Mr. Rosser’s gentle manner became an assurance, and slowly Jim began again to talk.

He told of his work, he told of his age, he told he could read and spell “dis” and “dat,” but that otherwise he had no knowledge.

When court adjourned for dinner, Jim again was becoming glib.

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Atlanta Journal, August 4th 1913, “Conley’s Glibness May Prove Unfortunate for His Testimony,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (PDF)