Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.
August 2nd, 1913
By JAMES B. NEVIN.
The testimony of Dr. Roy Harris, chairman of the State Board of Health, and one of the most learned and approved physicians in Georgia, was dramatic, both in its substance and in the manner of its delivery Friday.
It was not calculated to help Leo Frank—and it did not.
The exhibition of a portion of the contents of the dead girl’s stomach, for the purpose of approximating the time of her death, held breathless the packed courthouse—and the fainting of the physician during the progress of his testimony gave a final touch of melodrama to the trial that thrilled the audience as nothing else has thus far.
Dr. Harris impressed me, too, as believing in Frank’s guilt—I do not know that he does believe that way, it merely happens that he seemed so to impress me.
And if he impressed that jury as he impressed me, then the things he testified may, if the remainder of the case against Frank holds together, prove eventually to be the defendant’s undoing.
Shows He Had Chance.
To be sure, the State has not yet fixed the crime definitely on Frank—but it HAS definitely shown, unless its witnesses be impeached, which is highly unlikely, that Leo Frank MIGHT have murdered Mary Phagan and that he DID have the opportunity to accomplish it.
Having shown that the OPPORTUNITY was there, and that the murder likely was consummated during the time limits of that opportunity, the remaining elements of the case need but to be knitted properly together to make dark indeed the outlook for Frank.
Frank himself, Monteen Stover, Mrs. White and Dr. Harris—they together form a chain thus far apparently strong and dangerous!
That, from the standpoint of the defense, however, is the worst view to take of it.
It must be remembered that the defense as yet has introduced no witnesses. Such advantage as it so far has gained—and it has won many points—it has gained by wringing from the State’s own witnesses matters of fact favorable to Frank.
When the defense comes to tell its story it may be confidently anticipated that additional weak points in the State’s case may be discovered. The only question is, will they be found SUFFICIENTLY weak to cause the entire chain to fall apart?
Defense Seeks Weakest Link.
A chain is, of course, only as strong as its weakest link. Will the defense be able to locate the State’s weakest link? And having located it, will it, can it be strained to the point of giving way?
That is the perplexing and grim puzzle that Rosser and Arnold are contemplating from one standpoint and to-day Dorsey and Hooper from the other.
The black, forbidding shadow of the negro, Jim Conley, has fallen heavily athwart the courtroom in the old City Hall, where Frank is battling for his liberty, his good name and the restoration of his status as an upright and honorable man among this fellows.
The State is paving the way to the climax of its case—it is leading up, and with considerable skill and adroitness, to the test of its biggest asset or its most tremendous liability, as the case may be—Jim Conley, confessed accessory after the fact of Mary Phagan’s murder and by many suspected of being the principal to the murder.
Somehow it seemed to me that Luther Rosser grew more and more cautious in his cross-examining Friday and Saturday, and certainly Reuben Arnold appeared to weigh well his words and carefully propound his questions.
Dorsey Has Temper in Leash.
Dorsey, too, has his tempre [sic] much more throughly in hand—and Hooper?
Hooper is the same as ever—smiling, calm, deliberate, rarely speaking at all, save to whisper directing words into his associate’s ear now and then.
When Jim Conley is on the stand, Leo Frank will be face to face with the crisis in his trial—either Conley will leave the stand Frank’s final deliverance and refuge, or his eternal damnation on earth!
For this is a battle in truth to the very death—a battle in which quarter is being neither given nor asked!
It means hope, and love, and life, and liberty to Frank, or it means—!
I looked long and earnestly into the faces of those twelve “good men and true,” the “gentlemen of the jury” on Friday afternoon.
To me, the Frank jury appears to be much above the average.
A complete picture of it would indicate, I suspect, intelligence, level-headedness, business knowledge and poise.
It is the sort of jury I think it is, it is just the sort of jury that should try a case of such unusual quality as the one it now has in hand.
I am assuming that a vast majority of Georgians are hoping sincerely to see the truth of this famous case established—that it is largely an abstract proposition to the average man.
The point, however, is not so much what any one of us thinks—the point is what does that JURY think?
The impressions that evidence produce are varied and sometimes marked. One never can exactly and precisely say which way it will out.
And right here my mind goes back involuntarily to Dr. Roy Harris, and his remarkable testimony.
Undoubtedly the defense will have to put on its thinking cap, straight and firmly set, if it hopes not only to upset that testimony and discredit it as particularly and relatively in point, but to remove the profound impression it may have made upon the jury.
It is, after all, largely upon mental impression—perhaps more often than not—that jury verdicts are predicted. The psychological receptiveness of the jury frequently controls the finding, I doubt not.
If Dr. Harris’ testimony has weighed heavily against Frank in the mind of the jury, the defense will find it extremely difficult to remove that weight.
The Solicitor General may have been far more astute and incisive, too, than some have thought, when, time and again, he claimed to have been entrapped by his own witnesses—that they were not now swearing the same things that a few weeks ago they swore readily enough.
Effect May Be Decisive.
If the Solicitor has managed to get it into the minds of that jury that Frank needs protection against actually damaging circumstances, that witnesses deliberately have been drilled to protect him against sinister things that witnesses have been tampered with in his behalf—all of which things may be inferentially set up, without many genuine reasons there-for being given—then a psychological effect will have been achieved that may prove dangerous in the extreme to the defendant.
Now, I do not mean to say the State HAS succeeded in doing that, and I hardly see wherein those impressions would be warranted altogether in the minds of the jurymen, still Dorsey and Hooper are driving at SOMETHING—and it may be they are driving at that exact psychological effect!
And you never can tell.
The way of a serpent upon a rock, of an eagle in the air, and of a man with a maid—these things have been said to be the strangest of all things. But the fourth strangest thing, and there may be so many as four superlatively strange things, is the way of a jury with a defendant at bar!
Therefore, if Hooper and Dorsey have been seeking, through the clever manipulation of their own witnesses and through the still cleverer directing of the cross-examination into desired channels, and if they have succeeded, which no man possibly may know now, the art employed has been consummately far-reaching and keen.
It will brace up the amazing story of Conley wonderfully and make his tale the easier for the jury to accept as true, and it will in inverse ratio discount the defendant’s statement, moreover, if the jury can be brought to that psychological status suggested in this article, if it be the true purpose of the State to bring it there.
Situation Rests on “Ifs.”
There are a good many “ifs” in this idea, to be sure—but an psychological situations are builded largely upon “ifs.”
That the State is undertaking to establish a psychological effect in at least one other direction, too, is evident in the way it insists, over and over, that Frank was “nervous” or “extremely nervous” just after the crime was committed—the idea being that if he was agitated it likely was because of his guilty conscience.
The State has combated this wonderfully well, in so far as the substance of its denials are concerned—and yet into this idea obtrudes the thought that maybe here, again, the State has been cleverer than the defense has imagined, by forcing the State rather to overdo its hand in that direction!
Now, these suggestions may be more or less elusive and hard to get hold of, but they are in no way impossible. Indeed, when it is remembered that the State all along has been developing a rather weak circumstantial case against Frank always up to its star witness, Conley—at once both its hope and its despair—and that the story of that witness is grimly grotesque, in parts strenuously draining on the imagination, based, as it is in portions, upon admitted lies and misrepresentations, the great help and assistance to the State of a mentally receptive jury may be, and doubtless will be, appreciated immediately by the reader.
In any and very aspect of the case it is but the simple truth to say that both the State and the defense have been forced to the skating on dangerously thin ice more than once so far.