Dorsey Tries to Prove Frank Had Chance to Kill Girl

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

Atlanta Georgian
August 4th, 1913


James Conley, the negro sweeper in the National Pencil Factory, was called to the stand in the trial of Leo M. Frank, whom he accuses of the murder of Mary Phagan, at 10:15 Monday; under the skillful questioning of Solicitor Dorsey began the recitation of his sensational story.

The negro was taken to the court in Chief Beavers’ automobile and was accompanied by his lawyer, W.M. Smith. It was learned for the first time Monday that Conley would swear that he saw Mary Phagan enter the factory just before Monteen Stover, and that she was there the entire time the Stover girl was there. He will also swear that Frank admitted to him hitting Mary Phagan in the eye with his fist, and that after he helped him carry the body to the basement he promised Frank to come back at night and dispose of the body, but lost his nerve.

James Conley, the negro sweeper about whose sensational statement accusing Leo Frank of the murder of Mary Phagan, the greatest fight of the trial will be waged, was summoned to court this morning. All the indications were that he would go on the stand this morning. The police were notified to bring him to the courthouse shortly after the trial was resumed.

Determined to make his chain of circumstantial evidence strong enough to resist the attacks of the defense, Solicitor General Hugh M. Dorsey Monday proceeded to call witnesses who will give additional testimony to show that Leo M. Frank had the opportunity to kill Mary Phagan at the time the State declares the crime was committed.

Street car men were summoned to show that the little girl had time to arrive at the factory at a time coinciding with the theory supported by the sensational evidence of Dr. Roy Harris that she was slain within forty-five minutes after having eaten her lunch of cabbage and bread.

It became known that the State had a number of new witnesses whose names were not included in the list made public to the defense at the opening of the trial.

Nervous Sunday, He Says.

L. O. Grice, a stenographer in the offices of the Atlanta and West Point Railroad, was the first witness called. He said that he saw Frank on Sunday morning after the murder and Frank attracted his attention by his undue nervousness.

Grice said he was on the way to the Terminal Station when he bought an “extra” stating that a murder had been committed at the National Pencil Factory. He said he stopped by the pencil factory and saw eight men on the inside of the building.

“Did any of these men attract your particular attention,” asked Solicitor Dorsey.–A. Two or three of them did.

Q. Who were they?–A. When I went in the building Detective Black, whom I knew, was asking a great many questions.

Q. Did anybody attract your attention by the nervousness.–A.Not right then, but later we went down through the basement and out the back door. Then I was attracted by the nervous actions of a small dark man. I did not know him.

Q. Is this the man?–(pointing to Frank).–A. Yes.

State May Rest Wednesday.

The second week of the Frank trial opened Monday morning with the indication that the State would not conclude with the presentation of its case before Tuesday night at the earliest. In the event that the cross-examination of Jim Conley required the time the lawyers for the defense intimated they would devote to it, there was a strong possibility that the prosecution would not rest much before Wednesday afternoon.

Of the witnesses remaining to be called by the prosecution when court was called to order Monday morning, Jim Conley and his remarkable story of helping Frank dispose of this body of Mary Phagan were awaited with the greatest interest by the courtroom spectators and the general public. It was known that the negro would make a number of changes in his tale of the events of the fatal Saturday, although keeping intact the substance of his damning accusation against the young factory superintendent.

The conclusion of the testimony of Dr. H. F. Harris was regarded as of scarcely less importance than the story of Conley. Dr. Harris was on the stand Friday and created a genuine sensation by declaring that Mary Phagan could not have lived more than half or three-quarters of an hour after she ate her simple midday meal and started from home for the National Pencil Factory. He came to this determination from the fact that the cabbage she had eaten for dinner had undergone scarcely any change from the digestive juices when he examined the contents of her stomach.

The physician also strengthened the […]


[…] State’s indictment charging strangulation by declaring that this was assuredly the cause of her death, the blow on the back of the head being insufficient to produce more than a temporary unconsciousness.

In the midst of his startling testimony, which was the first evidence brought out by the State that was not already known by the public, he collapsed. Solicitor Dorsey had planned to ask him a number of other questions, but was forced to stop where he was. The defense, it may be supposed from the ungentle manner in which they attacked the doctor’s statements the next morning with another of the State’s medical experts on the stand, was also planning to question Dr. Harris at length.

Whether any other revelations of importance as the result of Dr. Harris’ examinations of the body at the first and second exhumation would have been made under the examination and cross-examination can only be determined when Dr. Harris again takes the stand. It also is problematical whether the physician will testify with such assurance and professional ease when he gets under the grilling cross-fire of Reuben Arnold, who knows a little medicine and physiological causes and effects and effects himself.

State to Call New Expert.

The prosecution, before it finishes, has still other witnesses to call. An expert in abdominal surgery, to corroborate the testimony of Dr. Harris, probably will be one of them. Solicitor Dorsey would not reveal his name Monday morning.

Harry Denham and Arthur White, the factory employees who were on the fourth floor of the building Saturday forenoon and in the afternoon until 3 o’clock, are expected to be questioned briefly by the Solicitor before he concludes the presentation of his evidence. Their testimony is not regarded as of special value, except to establish the time when Frank came to their floor to tell that he was going to leave and lock the front door. They are expected to say, in addition, that they were hammering and making a great deal of other noise and that they probably would not have noticed the running of the elevator had any one used it.

Mrs. May Barrett’s testimony is shrouded in mystery. She was seen on the fourth floor of the factory the Saturday of the crime, but what she will be able to testify has not been disclosed by the Solicitor. The first time she went to Solicitor Dorsey’s office she emerged crying hysterically that someone had been telling lies and that she knew nothing.

Her daughter, Mrs. George Bailey, it is understood, told the authorities that Mrs. Barrett had not revealed all she knew of the day’s events.

Admissions Are Reported.

There was another conference between the Solicitor and Mrs. Barrett. This time she is said to have made admissions which the Solicitor regarded of considerable importance in building up his case against Frank.

Chief Lanford is another of the State’s witnesses. The head of the detective department, however, has had in his possession little information that has not already been made public, and his testimony may be regarded as merely confirmatory of that previously given by his detectives and the police.

The defense has been waiting with some degree of eagerness the placing of Lanford on the stand. Attorney Rosser has been saving a mass of interviews that the chief gave out which, he says, indicates that Lanford started on the case with the firm theory that Frank was guilty, and he excluded every possibility orfm [sic] his mind, working only to gather evidence that could be harmful to the factory superintendent.

Mrs. Mima Formby, the author of the sensational affidavit charging that Frank called up her house several times Saturday night asking permission to bring a girl there, will not testify for the prosecution. This has been stated definitely by the lawyers representing the State.

Jury Spends Quite Sunday.

They say that they do not believe the woman’s affidavit and that there is no use in calling a person who they are certain has been telling a pure falsehood. There is a strong likelihood, however, that Mrs. Fomby [sic] will testify and that she will be called by the lawyers for the defense against whose client she uttered her accusation.

It is said that she will be asked to explain the origin of her affidavit and narrate all of the circumstances which preceded its writing. Frank’s attorneys say that they are aware of the reason for the framing of the affidavit and declare that when Mrs. Fomby takes the stand there will be some highly interesting testimony.

The twelve jurors spent most of their Sunday in the three rooms at the Kimball where they are quartered. During the day they read magazines and books, played games, talked and joked, but were kept strictly from reading any newspapers. They were taken for a walk after they ate at noon and again in the evening. Most of them retired early.

A host of friends and relatives of Frank visited him at the jail during the day. He was calm, cheerful and optimistic. His wife and mother did not go to the jail, but stayed at home to rest for the ordeal of another week in the courtroom.

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The Atlanta Georgian, August 4th 1913, “Dorsey Tries to Prove Frank Had Chance to Kill Girl,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (PDF)