Juror’s Story of How Evidence Was Weighed and Verdict Reached

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

Atlanta Georgian
August 27th, 1913

The Georgian today reveals some of the innermost secrets of the jury that convicted Leo M. Frank of the murder of little Mary Phagan. This inside story of the greatest criminal case in the South’s history is an intensely interesting revelation of the workings of men’s minds.

It casts upon the various points made by the defense and the prosecution the light in which they were viewed by the twelve men who were chosen to act as the judges. It ends with the last memorable meeting of these men on the top floor of the courthouse Monday afternoon which culminated in the fateful verdict: “We the jury find the defendant guilty.”

The information is given herewith as it was obtained by a reporter for this newspaper from one of the jurors late Monday night while the full weight of his grim burden still rested upon him. It is told in his own, impressive words.

“It was the only thing we could do. The evidence was against Frank from start to finish. And so we did our duty, as we had sworn to do.”

Dorsey’s Youth and Sincerity Won.

“It would be hard to say what, of all the trial, made the greatest impression on the jury. It was probably the Solicitor General himself. He was a marvel. His youthful appearance, coupled with his sincerity, made a wonderful hit. There wasn’t a minute of the hours that he spoke that he didn’t seem to mean every word that he uttered.”

“Dorsey is a forceful speaker. He puts emphasis behind his words. And he drives his points clear in and clinched, them on the other side. They had stuck with us. They had the evidence behind them to make them stick.”

“His theory of the murder was the one we accepted. It was the one the evidence upheld. That was the way Frank killed that girl.”

“While the negro watched downstairs, he took the little girl back into the metal room and struck her, and then with a cord strangled her to death. Then those notes were written as the negro told us and placed beside the body.”

“In the Dorsey’s argument there was one little sentence which seemed to imbed itself in the minds of every man on the jury, when he was speaking of the agreement between Frank and Conley that the negro should come back to the factory and burn the body. The sentence was this: And if the smoke from that little girl’s burning body had gone curling up into the air, old Jim Conley would have hanged for another man’s crime.'”

Hooper’s Action Had Its Effect.

“Those words went a long way toward keeping Jim Conley from Hanging, probably. They drew a contrast between right and wrong which made us look again into the evidence before us. And the narrow escape which the negro had made us shudder.”

“There was another thing which impressed that jury. It was Frank Hooper’s sacrifice to Dorsey. We called it that. Hooper had the chance of his lifetime there to make a wonderful speech when he opened the State’s argument. We were half expecting one. His reputation was known to us. And when he ended there was some disappointment. We said he had not done his best.

“Then we saw his sacrifices. He had only made a plain statement of the State’s case and left for the Solicitor General whatever fame and fortune there was to be won by the State’s counsel.”

“The jury heard none of the cheering for Dorsey outside the courtroom at any time. We heard the crowds in the courtroom laugh at times, and we laughed, too, but that had no effect.”

“Probably the hardest job we had was to sit there and face Frank’s mother and his wife with the slowly growing feeling of the defendant’s guilt. Some of the jurors cried when Frank’s wife broke down following his speech. It was an impressive thing to us. Yet it didn’t effect the evidence.”

Frank’s Speech Caused Wonder.

“The trouble with Frank’s speech was the same as the trouble with the entire defense. The evidence declared to us that he was guilty and no words of his could disprove that fact. Everybody felt the weight his wonderful calm and dispassionate manner carried while he was talking. Yet the marvel was that a guilty man could do it. That was all.”

“The defense made a wonderful fight with the evidence they had. Mr. Arnold was admired for his skillful work by every member of the jury. We saw every point that he brought out, and yet they all lacked weight.”

“Probably nothing else in the whole case was of more interest to us that Luther Rosser’s cross-examination of Conley. We thought it was a master’s display of human ingenuity. Yet in the jury’s mind it was like skyrocket, soaring up into the heavens to cast its fountain of brilliance about and then die out. The negro’s story remained as he had told it. That had a tremendous effect in the verdict.”

“Then there was that cabbage. It was astonishing the amount of knowledge was displayed by the members of the jury when the technicalities of medicine were brought out. We understood it all. The specimen of cabbage taken from the little Phagan girl’s stomach was passed around amongst us in the jury room and we could easily see that it had not been digested.”

“That also had its effect. There were men amongst us who luckily were well up on digestion. The experts said very little that we did not understand. But I will venture to say that few of the men of that jury will ever eat cabbage again.”

Full Force of Deputy Strikes Home.

“It is a terrific thing to be on a jury which holds a man’s life in its hands. The weight seems heaviest during the early days of the trial. You are struck with the somber faces of your fellow jurymen first; then in the mirror you see that your own face is as somber as the real, and the full force of the duty in front of you strikes home. You realize that before you become a freeman again you shall have disposed of the life of a fellowman.”

“Yet, strange to say, there wasn’t one among us who tried to flinch from his full share of the work. Each seemed eager from the start to do what he had sworn to do, and the determination seemed to grow as the days passed. When we left the courtroom this afternoon with the judge’s charge there wasn’t a doubt in the mind of anyone of us that justice would be done. I think that thought, in a great measure, was the cause for our quick decision.”

“Of course, we didn’t dream that the case would last as long as it did. Some of us hadn’t prepared for it. It meant a loss of a great deal of money to many of the men. Yet when this was brought up along in the second week, when no end was in sight, it took only one mention of the task before us to make all else look infinitesimally small. Jurydom is a sphere where money is not known.”

First Week Was Longest of All.

“The first week of the trial was longer than all the rest put together. It was a bit difficult for us to get acquainted. We were all a little bit suspicious of each other. Outside of a few comments on immaterialities, practicality nothing was said about the case. We didn’t care to talk about it, even to our roommates.”

“Then somebody brought in a checker board and someone else a deck of cards. The social life in jury quarters blossomed out in full blast.”

“It was a most welcome diversion, too. We had little enough exercise as it was and there was nothing left but to brood on the case.”

“And by the middle of the second week, there wasn’t a more sociable and jolly set of men this side of heaven, I don’t believe. There were checker matches and setback tournaments and a great rivalry for the championships. I don’t believe that there was an amateur among the bunch which went into that jury who didn’t come out an expert. With nothing else to do much at night, one can learn a great deal about cards and checkers in three weeks.”

“There was no gambling. And each Sunday we read from the Bible and sang religious songs. In fact, we held regular services every Sabbath day. It didn’t matter what churches we belonged to; each was as fervent as the other. While in Rome we did as the Romans do. Seriously, though, I think that the proposition we were up against in judging of a man’s life had a good deal do with that fervor.”

Same Word On Each Jury Slip.

“As for the judgement witnessed, there is little to say. As weighty as the task may seem, it was simple. There was but one ballot and on the twelve slips which were handed into Foreman Winburn the single word guilty’ was written. Yet, no one seemed surprised. There was an unanimity of feeling amongst us.”

“Don’t think that we had not considered the case fully. And don’t think that there was a man amongst us that wanted to do what we did. Yet, day after day, the pressure grew heavier, as the case was put before us. From a slight head it became an oppression; then a nausea and at last a sickening scene of the grim fact that, Frank was guilty and we were going to give the world that verdict.”

“It was horrible that time we spent in deliberation. Everyone knew what was going to be done, though hardly a word was spoken, until we had agreed. We were spellbound with dread. Then someone suggested a drink. That enlivened us and we began to breathe again.”

“You ask what brought us to our verdict so readily? I have told you. It was the only thing that could be done, and we knew it, even as we ascended the stairs to the jury this afternoon. No argument was needed.”

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Atlanta Georgian, August 27th 1913, Juror’s Story of How Evidence Was Weighed and Verdict Reached,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)