Writ Sought In Move to Free Negro Lee

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

The Atlanta Georgian

Thursday, July 3, 1913

Attorney for Watchman Declares Client Knows Nothing of the Actual Crime.

Bernard L. Chappell, attorney for Newt Lee, negro night watchman at the pencile [sic] factory, held in the Phagan case, stated Thursday morning that he would swear out a writ of habeas corpus for the release of the negro.

Attorney Chappell stated that he had come to the conclusion that there was nothing the negro knew about the crime except finding the body, and that the State had no right to keep him without some charge or as a material witness.

Lee was the first suspect arrested in connection with Mary Phagan’s murder. He was ordered held by the Coroner, but when a bill of indictment was offered the Grand Jury at the same time of the Frank indictment, no action was taken against the negro.

Weak Spots in Conley Tale.

Chappell said the writ of habeas corpus would compel the State either to order the negro held as a material witness or make some charge against him.

Conley, in relating his dramatic tale of carrying the body of Mary Phagan from the rear of the second floor and disposing of it at the direction of Frank in a dark corner of the gloomy basement, said that when he reached the elevator he had to wait until Frank went into his office for a key to the elevator door.

The defense will maintain, it is understood, that the elevator door had not been locked for some time. Witnesses will be called to testify that the door had remained unlocked in accordance with instructions from the firms with which the building was insured. From this alleged circumstance, it will be argued that the negro’s story is a fabrication devised to shield himself from the charge of murder and to shift the responsibility onto another man.

To Assail Whole Story.

This is only one particular of at least a score which will be assailed by Attorneys Luther Z. Rosser and Reuben R. Arnold, who are representing Frank. They will say in the first place that the elevator was not running at all on the day of the crime, in spite of Conley’s story that the body was carried down to the basement by this means. Harry Denham and Arthur White, who were working on the fourth floor of the factory, will be called to testify to this.

With the defense and prosecution awaiting the day when the great legal battle which will send Frank to the gallows or free him from the stigma of the murder charge shall begin, Frank’s lawyers are occupying much of their time in making a critical analysis of the succession of weird statements credited to the negro from the time he said he wrote on the Friday before the murder at the dictation of Frank the notes that were found beside the body of the dead girl until he issued his last affidavit.

The negro admitted the story of writing the notes on Friday was false. He admitted that his first story of never having seen Mary Phagan, dead or alive, was a deliberate lie. He is reported to have further changed his story by admitting seeing the girl before she was killed. But, except for this, he maintains his last affidavit is the whole truth. The defense believes it is as false as the rest and is preparing to go into court and break down utterly the fabrication that the negro has erected.

Notes to Play Part.

Although the notes found by the body of the slain girl have received little attention from those working on the case lately, they are bound to have a most important part in the trial of Frank.

The defense will seek to show that there could have been no possibility of their being dictated by the factory superintendent; that if the negro had taken Frank’s dictation, supposing that Frank had committed the crime, a much different sort of a note would have been the result.

Conley has shown since his arrest that he can follow dictation with a fair degree of accuracy. This being the case, it is reasonable to presume, the defense will hold, that he would have followed Frank’s words closely. But the notes are an incoherent, jumbled mass of words that are only half intelligible after the detectives have placed weeks of study upon them. The defense will contend that such a note can not be imagined, by any process of reasoning, as the dictation of Frank.

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The Atlanta Georgian, July 3rd 1913, “Writ Sought In Move to Free Negro Lee,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)