Negro Freed But Jailed Again On Suspicion

by Curator on April 11, 2017

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

The Atlanta Georgian

Friday, June 13, 1913

Rosser Declares ‘Gibbering Statements’ Point Out Sweeper as Guilty of Slaying.

James Conley, self-confessed accessory after the fact in the murder of Mary Phagan, Friday was discharged by Judge L. S. Roan entirely from the custody of the State on the petition of Solicitor Dorsey.

Technically free, Conley was at once rearrested and held by the police on suspicion in the murder mystery. The action of Judge Roan constituted a victory for Solicitor Dorsey, who was fighting to prevent the authorities returning Conley to the Tower, from which he had been taken on the representation of his attorney, William M. Smith, that the negro was threatened and intimidated in the Tower.

Luther Z. Rosser, attorney for Leo Frank, made a bitter protest against the liberation of the negro, which, in the opinion of Judge Roan, was the only legal alternative of returning him to the county jail. He made a still stronger protest in a formal written statement placed on file as a record in the case.

Accuses Conley as Slayer.

In this he charged that the negro’s series of “gibbering and incoherent statements,” together with the attendant circumstances of the crime and Conley’s subsequent actions, pointed to him as guilty of the murder beyond any reasonable doubt.

Less than ten minutes was occupied in the disposal of the case. Judge Roan did not read either the statement of Attorney Rosser or that of Attorney Smith, who submitted the reasons he wished his client kept at the police station. The dispatch with which the petition was acceded to was a complete surprise. A protracted and hard fought legal battle had been expected.

Judge Roan said that he was without authority to hold the negro in the custody of the State so long as he had no formal application from either side. The Solicitor, he said, was asking for the release of the prisoner, and Attorney Rosser had characterized his statement only as a “suggestion.”

Smith’s Charges.

Attorney Smith’s statement to the court charged intimidation, and that influences unfriendly to Frank were at the back of the movement to transfer Conley back to the jail. He alleged that neither the interests of justice nor the interests of Conley could be safeguarded by removing Conley from the police station.

Sheriff Mangum branded as an infamous lie the charge that the interests of Conley could not be safeguarded in the county jail, and had not been safeguarded. The only person involved in the charge of intimidating and threatening Conley characterized the accusation as absurd and grossly and wilfully exaggerated. He was present to testify at the hearing, but was not called.

The formality of releasing and rearresting Conley took place in front of the police station. The negro was brought to the sidewalk, where he had his freedom for about a second and was then again taken into custody.

Text of the Petition.

Mr. Rosser’s paper was headed:

Application of Hugh M. Dorsey, Solicitor General, to release James Conley from Legal Custody.

In answer to the petition and order in the above stated cause, served up on us, as attorneys for Leo Frank, w[ho] herewith answer and show cause as follows:

1. If the intention of the Solicitor General is to discharge this negro from custody because (a) he is in fact not a material witness against Frank, or (b) although he is a material witness, his integrity and character are such that he ought[…]

Continued on Page 2, Column 1.

CONLEY, FREED, AGAIN JAILED ON SUSPICION

Dorsey Wins Over Rosser in Contest Over Negro Implicated in Phagan Case.

Continued From Page 1.

[…]to have his liberty and be trusted to obey the subpena of this court, then considered as a witness only, he ought to be discharged and indeed he should not have been imprisoned at all. But in such case to enact the farce in the court’s presence of releasing the negro and immediately return him to his wet nurses at the police station would resemble child’s play.

2. But if the Solicitor believes that one of a number of contradictory statements made by this negro may, if properly preserved, be made valuable in the prosecution of Frank and that the negro may destroy its value if left free to talk, and in order to stop his mouth it is necessary that the detectives should keep him in charge, then we think we have the right to protest against any order of a court of justice that winks at such a purpose.

Release Not Considered.

3. We are constrained to the conclusion that it is not the purpose for any reason to release this negro, but, by obtaining the order here sought, continue the present illegal confinement.

4. But Frank is himself deeply interested in this proceeding. That the consent of the Solicitor and the will of the negro is all that is required to reverse the will of the law is erroneous. The State has the right in the interest of justice to put a witness in custody, but where in custody and in whose custody is of the highest importance. The law has given such custody to the Sheriff, and wisely so. The Sheriff is not a prosecutor; the jail itself is not usually a place of punishment, but a temporary place of detention. The Sheriff is supposed to stand impartially between the State and his prisoners, and may be trusted to neither coajole [sic], threaten nor suppress testimony by third degree methods. The law never meant to place a witness who for lack of character needs confinement under the control of a partisan prosecutor.

5. That the detectives should wish to keep Conley in custody and entertain him at the city’s expense is not at all surprising. They have already extracted from him extravagant, unthinkable confessions, three or four in number. To these statements they have given the widest publicity, and to the credibility of the last one they have staked their reputations and hope of place.

All Staked on Conley.

6. Upon the constancy and stability of this witness they have staked their all. They would be less than human if they did not bend all their power and ingenuity in holding him to his present statement, adding to and taking therefrom only such things as will aid its credibility.

Can any fair-minded man believe that Lanford is a fair man to be the custodian of this ignorant negro? What chance would he have to retract any lies he may have told, or if in a repentant mood he should wish to tell the truth? This negro in the city prison, in the power of Lanford, apart from all questions of truth, would be just as dangerous as Lanford would wish him to be. No one knows that better than Lanford, and no one would feel it as acutely as will this negro.

How well Lanford knows it can be seen from his interview in The Georgian of June 12. In that interview he demonstrated that he thinks he has full, unrestricted ownership of this negro. He graciously expresses his willingness for this negro to go before the Grand Jury upon such terms as he suggests. Neither the negro nor the negro’s lawyer nor the Grand Jury is considered. Nor was this court to be consulted—his will and not the order of this court was to determine when and under what circumstances the negro should leave the police station.

Lanford’s Power Questioned.

If Lanford vaunts in the face of jury and court his power over this negro, what must be his hearing when he deals privately with the negro himself? What chance has he to abstract a lie or add a truth to the foolish statement which Lanford approves and wishes to maintain? If this man will, when he is holding this negro under your honor’s order, declare such ownership over this negro’s person and movements to what length would he go if the court releases his power over him and turns him over to Lanford’s unrestricted power?

6. It is just to Frank, as well as in the interest of public justice, that this negro should be detained by unbiased, fair men, whose reputations and positions are not at stake.

The law recognizes this right and has put that duty upon the Sheriff. Will there be less fairness and less decency in the county jail than in the police station? When did Lanford become a wiser, fairer, better man than the Sheriff of this county?

7. Apart from this negro’s position on a witness, his detention in the custody of the detectives would be a public calamity. Many unbiased people believe this negro is the murderer of little Mary Phagan. The facts of the case, apart from his own confession, point most strongly to him as the guilty man.

Evidence Against Negro.

(a) On the day of the murder he was drunk and concealed himself in a position where he could readily commit the murder.

(b) On Monday morning he was unduly excited; so much so as to arouse the suspicions of the employees. On Saturday night after the murder, he was caught hiding in his own house.

(c) When the police were in the building, he was caught hiding in an obscure part of the factory, where he had no business.

(d) When questioned about this conduct, he said he would hive a large sum to be a white man. When asked why, he said he could then get safely past the police.

(e) He for a long time persistently denied that he could write, and did not admit that he could until longer denial was useless.

(f) He was caught washing a shirt, a thing he had never done before, and when caught gave a foolish excuse.

Trapped Into Confession.

(g) He denied all participation in or knowledge of the crime until he was driven by the charge that he wrote the notes found near the body.

(h) On May 18 he made a signed statement outlining his actions on April 26, making no mention of the murder.

(i) On May 24 he made an affidavit. He said that on April 25, before the murder on April 26, he wrote the notes at the request of Frank, for which Frank gave him cigarettes and $2.50, and added statements about Frank’s people in Brooklyn and an inquiry by Frank as to why he should hang.

(j) On May 28 Conley made a long affidavit, full of contradictions and absurdities, beginning it as follows:

“I make this statement, my second statement in regard to the murder of Mary Phagan at the National Pencil factory. In my first statement I made the statement that I went into the pencil factory on Friday, April 25, and went into Frank’s office at five minutes to 1 o’clock, which is a mistake. I made this statement in regard to Friday in order that I might not be accused of knowing anything of this murder, for I thought if I put myself there Saturday they might accuse me of having a hand in it, and I now make my second and last statement regarding the matter freely and voluntarily, after thinking over the situation, and I have made up my mind to tell the whole truth, and I make it freely and voluntarily, without the promise of any reward or from force or fear of punishment in any way.”

“First Confession Rambling.”

(k) After this beginning he sets out with variations the writing of the notes on Saturday instead of on Friday, and in a long, rambling statement his movements at home and on Peters Street on Saturday and on Monday at the factory, most of which is wholly disconnected with the murder.

(l) On May 29, 1913, although he had already sworn that he had made “his true, full and last statement,” he made another statement in which he purported to aid Mr. Frank in concealing the body of Mary Phagan. This statement is full of contradictions and wholly irreconcilable with itself and with the known facts surrounding the murder.

(m) He closes this remarkable affidavit in the following words: “The reason I have not told this before is that I thought Mr. Frank would get out and help me out, but it seems that he is not going to get out, and I decided to tell the whole truth about the matter.”

“Conley’s Guilt Shown.”

(n) These are some of the facts well known to the public and to the detectives, showing Conley’s guilt. There are other powerful facts which could readily be brought before the Grand Jury.

8. These incoherent, gibbering statements will, it is believed, impress the Grand Jury if the negro Conley’s case is submitted to it.

9. The Grand Jury can be trusted to scan these queer statements in the light of all the surrounding facts and circumstances, and, taken in connection with all the other facts implicating Conley, they proclaim his guilt beyond all reasonable doubt.

(10) The detectives, obsessed as they are with the assumption that Conley is a tool and not a murderer, are unfit to keep him in their sole and unlimited power. Under their protecting care Conley, instead of being left to tell the truth, will at length deceive himself into the belief that instead of being a murderer he is an unfortunate victim.

“Detectives Protecting Negro.”

(11) That Conley and his counsel wish it is the best reason why it should be done. As long as he sticks to a story pleasing to the detectives, or builds upon that story as additions may be needed, he is assured that the detectives will save him as far as possible from the court and Grand Jury, and will so far as they can fix upon him no greater crime than a misdemeanor.

(12) Conley and his counsel are wise. There is for them no other hope than for the detectives to keep Conley and save him from a confession that he committed the crime, giving him immunity, provided he continues to put the guilt on Frank.

Sheriff Shows Up Smith.

Denial of practically every assertion made by Conley or his attorney, William M. Smith, regarding lax jail regulations or the treatment of the negro while in the county prison, was made by Sheriff Mangum when informed of the contents of the affidavit and petitions submitted to Judge Roan.

“Smith’s statements are infamous lies,” said the Sheriff. “There is absolutely no foundation for belief by Conley that he was being poisoned when he was given the sandwiches. The negro lied when he said he did not eat the food. He did eat the four sandwiches. They were given to him by a reporter, who told me all about his interview. The newspaper man said he wanted to get on Conley’s good side and get information for his paper. In the story he wrote he told frankly of the tactics he had used to get information.

“The regulations in the Fulton County jail are as good as those is any county prison anywhere. If Smith says that the jail is not competently guarded he is maliciously falsifying, and he knows it. We have no spies for use in matter that do not concern us, nor have we prying attendants at the jail.

“As I said before, Smith’s assertions are too preposterous to take heed of.”

Intimidation Charged.

Conley’s attorney, William M. Smith, in a petition accompanying the negro’s affidavit, declares that the county jail is scantily guarded and that prison regulations were extremely lax.

“The county prison has at times but one guard inside its walls,” the petition declares, “it is a physical impossibility for this deputy to be at all points and know what is going on; that the actual custody of the prisoners is placed in the hands of trusty prisoners, some of whom are absolutely unreliable; that deponent visited James Conley at the county prison and that it was difficult for anything to be done or said without the espionage of these trusty prisoners, who were overly anxious to know the character of deponent’s connection with Conley’s case.

Smith Sees Bias.

“That deponent talked with a man who, he is advised, is of Jewish extraction and who deponent believes is doing all he can reasonably to place the blame for this crime on his client (Conley), and who is desirous of seeing the defendant (Frank) cleared; and this man admitted to this deponent that he did visit the cell of said Conley and offered him sandwiches and promised whisky and however he specifically disclaimed his being the party who had threatened said Conley at a later hour, and stated that the sandwiches and whisky were offered in good faith with no intention to harm Conley, that the identity of this party is known to deponent and can be given the court upon request; that knowing the conditions as they exist at the county jail, deponent declares that the ends of justice will not be served by detention of James Conley at the county prison, but that same will be materially harmed and damaged.”

Conley Repeats Charges.

Conley, in his affidavit, declared that during his stay in the county jail he was constantly being menaced by persons whom he suspected of the intention to poison him.

“Affiant swears that he was visited by numerous persons, strangers to him, while he was held in the county prison,” the affidavit reads; “that deponent was visited by a young man at one time who appeared to be of Jewish descent, who offered this deponent sandwiches to eat; that deponent did not eat the sandwiches, for fear of being poisoned; that late in the night, after the lights had been turned out, a man came to the cell of deponent and struck a match and looked in and asked deponent if he did not know he would be hanged; told deponent that he was telling a d—d lie on Frank, and would be hanged sure as h—l, asked deponent if he did not know he could shoot him in his cell, if he was a mind to do so; that on account of the darkness deponent was unable to find out who this was; that the only desire of deponent is that he be given protection and be in hands of sworn officers of the law and not turned over to any prisoner or to ‘trusty turnkeys,’ where there is any possibility for this deponent to be harmed in any way.”

Slap at Sheriff.

Conley, in answer to the rule nisi, further attacks the regulations at the county jail, and the treatment accorded him in that institution:

“Respondent is advised that the keys to practically all of the cell blocks are carried by ‘convicted criminals,'” the answer states; “that owing to this condition, men have been known to saw through steel bars and cages and escape.

“That this respondent was imprisoned while in the county jail directly over the cell block in which said defendant (Frank) is detained, that this respondent is advised and believes that the Sheriff of this county publicly proclaimed that the defendant looks him in the eye like an innocent man.”

Release and Rearrest.

A dramatic moment attended the release and rearrest of Conley Friday morning in connection with the working of the court’s order that the negro be given his liberty.

Chief of Detectives Lanford appeared at the door of Conley’s cell at 11 o’clock.

“Well, Jim,” said the Chief, “I am going to release you.”

The negro received the statement with a look of fright, but was silent, as well as bewildered.

Taken from his cell, Conley was ied [sic] by the Chief through the sergeant’s office and to the side door of the police station, which opens into an alley. The negro followed his captors with silent bewilderment.

The party proceeded down the alley to the sidewalk. There a small crowd greeted the negro with curious eyes. Chief Lanford took his hand from Conley’s arm. Conley was a free man.

His freedom was but for an instant, though. Before Conley could move or recover from his astonishment, Detective McGill took him by the arm.

“I will have to arrest you and take you back, Jim,” Chief Lanford said.

Conley’s face brightened perceptibly.

“That’s all right,” he smiled, “I didn’t want to get out, anyhow.”

Appearing opposite Conley’s name now on the police register is the word “Released,” and, following it, “Suspicion,” the charge upon which he was rearrested.

* * *

The Atlanta Georgian, June 13th 1913, “Negro Freed But Jailed Again On Suspicion,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)

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