Roan’s Ruling Heavy Blow to Defense

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

Atlanta Georgian
August 7th, 1913

Judge Roan administered a severe blow to the defense Wednesday when he ruled that all of Conley’s story should stand, although portions of it, he acknowledged, would have been inadmissible had objection been made at the time the testimony was offered.

Judge to Rule as Case Proceeds.

It was a particularly difficult allegation to combat. Unlike many allegations, it was exactly as hard to fight in the event it was false as in case it was founded on fact.

Judge Roan said in regard to the testimony of Dalton that he did not know what it was to be and that he would allow it to be presented so that he might rule on its admissibility as it came up.

Solicitor Dorsey put the final rivet in his case so far as it rested upon the testimony of Conley when at the close of his redirect examination of the negro he brought to light the State’s theory of the disposition that had been made of the Phagan girl’s mesh bag.

Practically no mention of the mesh bag had been made during the week and a half of the trial. The only reference made to it was in the examination of Mrs. J. W. Coleman, mother of the slain girl, and of the officers who visited the scene of the crime immediately after police headquarters was called by the negro nightwatchman, Newt Lee.

Tells of Mesh Bag.

Mrs. Coleman testified that Mary left home with the mesh bag in her hand. The detectives and policemen all testified that they were able to find no trace of it either the morning after the crime or in the search that had been conducted since then.

“Did you ever see the murdered girl’s mesh bag?” Dorsey asked Conley, just as it appeared that he had finished his questioning.

“Yes, sah, I see it,” Conley replied.

“Where was it?”
“It was right on Mr. Frank’s desk when I went in there to write the notes.”

“Did you see what became of it?”
“Yes, sah; Mr. Frank went and put it in his safe.”

Conley left the stand at 11:10 o’clock still sticking to his charge that Leo Frank killed the Phagan girl and that at Frank’s direction, he (Conley) assisted in the disposal of the body. He had been on the stand fifteen and one-half hours and under the grilling cross-examination of Luther Rosser for more than thirteen hours.

Practically the only addition he made to his story as it appeared in his direct examination was his declaration that while he was writing the murder notes Frank took the pencil out of his hand and then an instant later made him rub out the “s” he had written as he spelled out “negros.” Conley said he wrote the note at first:

“A long tall black negros did this by hisself.”

A long argument over the admissibility of Conley’s testimony in regard to Frank’s alleged conduct with women previous to the murder of Mary Phagan took place after the jury had been sent from the courtroom at noon. Court recessed before the arguments were concluded, and the debate was resumed in the afternoon.

Reuben Arnold cited opinions from courts in State’s from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but his arguments were unavailing and the decision went against the defense. There was a murmur of applause and a stamping of feet.

Arnold instantly was on his feet with a motion for a mistrial, but he realized at once that the jury was not present and withdrew the motion. He threatened, however, to make a motion that the courtroom be cleared if such a demonstration occurred again.

Dr. Harris Recalled.

Dr. Harris was recalled to complete the testimony which he was giving when he collapsed on the stand the Friday before. He repeated his assertion as to the time Mary Phagan came to her death after eating dinner at her home in Bellwood Saturday shortly before noon.

“I can say with almost absolute certainty,” he declared, “that this little girl was killed within 30 or 40 minutes after she ate her meal that day.”

He refused, under cross-examination, to change his testimony in the least in respect to the cause of death.

“It was easily apparent that strangulation was the cause,” he declared.

“An examination of the lungs was unnecessary and even useless because of the embalming preparation that had been employed. It was plainly evident that the rope had been placed about the girl’s neck before death and the deep indentation showed that it was sufficient to choke off her breath and cause death within a brief time.”

Blow Not Fatal, He Says.

Although Arnold was unable to make the physician after the statement of his opinion, he obtained an admission that a blow on the head sufficient to cause death might immediately precede garroting and still the same manifestations of strangulation exist.

Dr. Harris, however, did not believe that the blow on Mary Phagan’s head was enough to cause death. He said that the blow was not severe and that aside from a little spot of blood on the brain which could not have caused any pressure, the brain was entirely normal.

Attorney Arnold in the latter part of the afternoon session engaged in an exhaustive and highly technical examination of the witness in regard to the action of the digestive juices, the percentages that were present in Mary Phagan’s stomach and the tests that were made for poisons.

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Atlanta Georgian, August 7th 1913, “Roan’s Ruling Heavy Blow to Defense,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)