Conley’s Main Story Still Remains Unshaken

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

Atlanta Constitution
August 6th, 1913


Declaring That “I Don’t Remember,” or, “No, Sir; I Didn’t Say That,” or Simply Affirming Blandly That He Had Lied on a Previous Occasion, Negro Sweeper Sticks to Story Told on the Witness Stand on Monday Morning Despite Most Rigid Cross-Examination of Trial.


Apparently Despairing of Breaking the Negro, Attorneys for Defense Appeal to Judge Roan to Strike All Evidence Relating to Alleged Previous Conduct of Frank Before Day of Murder on Ground of Irrelevancy – State Vigorously Protests Against Such Action and Judge Roan Will Decide Today.

Twelve and one-half hours under the merciless cross-questioning of Luther Rosser, than whom no lawyer at the Atlanta bar has more terrors for the average witness; twelve and one-half hours saying, “I don’t remember,” “No, sir, I didn’t say ‘dat,’” or simply affirming blandly that he had lied on a previous occasion; twelve and one-half hours staring fixedly on a crowded court room; twelve and one-half hours during which time the perspiration or sweat—if you like that word better—failed to dot his brow—

That is the record of Jim Conley, former negro sweeper at the National Pencil factory.

No such record has ever been made in a criminal case in this county.

On Monday Conley was on the stand five hours and a half, and the able attorneys for the defense failed to break him down; failed to rattle him. On Tuesday, after a good night’s sleep at the Tower, Conley resumed the stand and Luther Rosser questioned him for seven hours. Still he did not shake him.

Conley may be telling the truth in the main or he may be lying altogether. He may be the real murderer or he may have been but the accomplice after the fact. Be these things as they may, he is one of the most remarkable negroes who has ever been seen in this section of the country. His nerve seems unshakable. His wit is ever ready.

Lawyers Work In Vain.

As stated in Tuesday’s Constitution, Luther Rosser managed to get Conley to admit he had lied in his previous affidavits; that he had been in jail seven or eight times—he could not tell how often; that he could not remember certain dates; that he tripped himself in regard to his ability to read and write, but that is about all the defense has succeeded in doing. His main story remains unshaken. Of course no one can tell what will come today or what effect Conley’s story and his admissions will have on the jury.

Fails to Break Him.

Apparently despairing of breaking the negro, the attorneys for the defense shortly after court had met for the afternoon session moved that all that part of Conley’s statement relating to the previous times he had watched for Frank and the incident of the young woman whom he claims to have seen in a compromising position with Frank be stricken out.

Luther Rosser had for hours cross-questioned Conley on the times he had watched out for Frank, and he failed to budge him. When this testimony for the state was introduced it was the big sensation of the trial, particularly that part relating to the young woman Conley claims to have discovered with Frank. Second only to the surprise this testimony created was the fact that the attorneys for the defense allowed to go in without any objection. Apparently they had taken the bridle off and were willing for him to go the limit, depending on breaking him down later on and discrediting the whole story.

Solicitor Hugh Dorsey shaped this part of the proceedings in a manner that was masterful. He knew that in allowing Conley to go ahead and tell of these various times he had “watched for Frank” he was paving the way for a possible breakdown of the negro—on that he was giving the defense an advantage which they accepted gladly, but were unable to make anything of.

Judge Roan reserved his ruling on this point until this morning, when he will decide whether the testimony shall go in or be stricken out.

Interest Is Keen.

Interest on this point is keen. The defense, by asking that the testimony be eliminated, virtually admit their failure to break down Conley. If it is left in it will be signal victory for the state, and Solicitor Dorsey will introduce several witnesses to prove the statements made by Conley. On this point he has already declared his intention.

When court adjourned Tuesday Conley was still on the stand and he will be on the stand today when court opens.

Just how long he will be kept on the stand is a matter of speculation. When adjournment hour came Tuesday Luther Rosser had gone all over Conley’s testimony time and again and was asking questions about his treatment at the jail and other matters having little bearing on his main story.

From present indications the trial will run for fully ten days, and possibly two weeks longer. The state will have other witnesses to introduce after Conley leaves the stand, and he may be on the stand for some days yet.

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Atlanta Constitution, August 6th 1913, “Conley’s Main Story Still Remains Unshaken,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)