This July 25, 1946 file photo shows mourners as they carry the flag-draped coffin of lynching victim George W. Dorsey out of Mount Perry Baptist Church in Bishop, Ga. The brazen mass lynching horrified the nation that year but no one was ever indicted and investigations over the years failed to solve the case. More than 70 years after a grand jury failed to indict anyone in the lynching of two young black couples in rural Georgia, a historian is seeking the transcripts from the grand jury proceedings. A federal appeals court is set to hear arguments in the case Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. (Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)
Seven decades ago, a federal grand jury in Georgia heard 16 days of testimony but declared itself unable identify or indict anyone involved in the brazen lynching of two young black couples on a country road. Now a historian is fighting to find out what happened in that grand jury room.
A car carrying the four sharecroppers was stopped by a white mob at Moore's Ford Bridge, overlooking the Apalachee River, in July 1946. They were pulled from the car and shot multiple times along the banks of the river, a little more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Atlanta.
The lynching captured national attention, and President Harry Truman sent the FBI to rural Walton County. Agents investigated for months and identified dozens of possible suspects. But a grand jury convened in December 1946 failed to indict anyone in the deaths of Roger and Dorothy Malcom and George and Mae Murray Dorsey.
Anthony Pitch, author of a 2016 book on the lynching, wants the transcripts from the grand jury proceedings unsealed. But the federal government argues that grand jury proceedings are secret and the records should remain locked away.
A federal judge last year granted Pitch's request to unseal the records, but lawyers with the U.S. Department of Justice appealed. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the appeal Wednesday.
Pitch hasn't been able to review the records but said he knows they are "voluminous." Feeling optimistic after the hearing before the 11th Circuit, he said he hopes he'll get to see them soon.
"I don't know what I'm going to find there," he said. "I hope it's going to be explosive."
Roger Malcom, 24, had been jailed after stabbing and gravely injuring a white man, Barnett Hester, during an argument. Witnesses told authorities Malcom suspected Hester was sleeping with his wife.
A white farmer, Loy Harrison, paid $600 to bail Malcom out on July 25, 1946. He was driving the Malcoms and Dorseys home, he told investigators, when he was ambushed by a mob.
Harrison was unharmed and told authorities he didn't recognize anyone in the mob, which the FBI numbered at 20 to 25 people. An FBI report noted Harrison was a former Ku Klux Klansman and well-known bootlegger. The months-long FBI investigation identified many possible suspects, some merely because they were Hester's relatives, friends or neighbors, or because they had no alibis. But no one was charged.
When people came forward promising new information in the 1990s, law enforcement revisited the case, but investigators still said they couldn't prosecute. Then-Gov. Roy Barnes in June 2000 ordered the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to reopen the case. That investigation closed in January, shortly after the FBI concluded its latest review.
Journalists, students, cold case groups and historians have visited the bridge and surrounding towns hoping to find clues or to coax people into talking.
Pitch was working on a book, "The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Mass Murder Rocked a Small Georgia Town," when he petitioned a federal judge to unseal the grand jury transcripts in January 2014.
Government lawyers argued that they weren't aware of any such records, that they'd likely been lost or destroyed. But even if the records did exist, they argued, they shouldn't be released because grand jury proceedings are secret.
U.S. District Judge Marc Treadwell in August 2014 denied Pitch's request, saying there was no evidence the records existed.
Pitch again asked Treadwell in January 2017 to unseal the transcripts, saying his investigation had determined that the National Archives in Washington has the transcripts.
In August 2017, Treadwell ordered the records released, and the government appealed.
The appeals court judges grilled lawyers for both sides Wednesday. They asked where lines should be drawn for the release of grand jury records and what potential harm could come from releasing the records. They also wanted to know if binding court precedent that says federal judges have the authority to order grand jury records released should apply.
Department of Justice attorney Brad Hinshelwood argued that rules governing grand jury secrecy allow for exceptions but that Pitch's request doesn't meet any of them. Those rules can be changed, he said, but that should be done by policymaking bodies rather than the courts.
Hinshelwood also argued that people who appear before a grand jury might behave differently if they thought the records might one day be released.
Joe Bell, Pitch's lawyer, argued that the historical significance of the case and the possibility that real answers might come out were of such great public interest. He also noted that all of the witnesses in this case are now dead.
Previous rulings in the 11th Circuit and in other circuits have allowed the release of grand jury records for reasons not enumerated in the exceptions provided for by the rules, he argued.
In 1949, Norma Padgett, a white 17-year-old, falsely accused four young black men in Groveland, Florida of kidnapping and raping her. Nearly 70 years later, the state of Florida is apologizing to the families of the "Groveland Four," two of whom were murdered and two of whom were wrongly sentenced to death. After the false accusations, enraged white residents of Lake County went on a violent rampage, shooting at and burning the homes of black residents. The Governor sought help from the National Guard to quell the violence. One of the falsely accused young men, Ernest Thomas, escaped from the county jail and was shot dead by an angry mob of 1,000 men led by Lake County sheriff Willis V. McCall. Thomas was shot 400 times. The three others who had been falsely accused were beaten into giving false confessions, then quickly tried and convicted by an all-white jury. The youngest, Charles Greenlee, who was only 16 years old, was sentenced to life in prison. Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, both Army veterans, were sentenced to death. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed their convictions and ordered a new trial. During their transport from the county prison for court proceedings, Sheriff McCall claimed the pair tried to escape and shot both men, killing Shepherd. Irvin played dead, survived the shooting, and was again tried and sentenced to death. Irvin received a last-minute reprieve from execution and his sentence was commuted by the Governor. Greenlee and Irvin were both granted parole in the 1960s. Irvin died in 1970 and Greenlee in 2012. The Groveland Four, as the men came to be known, were finally given a formal apology from the Florida House of Representatives on April 19, 2017, nearly 70 years after they were first accused. Rep. Bobby DuBose (D-Fort Lauderdale), sponsored the bill and said, "This resolution, while seemingly minute, symbolizes the great state of Florida looking those families in the eyes — families, with children, who grew up not knowing their fathers but only knew their records. This resolution is us simply saying, ‘We’re sorry’ — understanding we will never know or make up for the pain we have caused." The resolution, which says the Groveland Four, “were the victims of gross injustices and that their abhorrent treatment by the criminal justice system is a shameful chapter in this state’s history,” and calls on Gov. Rick Scott to expedite posthumous pardons, passed the House unanimously. The Senate is expected to vote soon on its version of the bill. [UPDATE: On April 27, 2017, the Florida Senate approved an identical resolution.]
Prosecutors in Las Vegas dropped all charges against four California dentists when video evidence did not back up a woman’s claim that the men raped her.
Authorities initially charged Ali Badkoobehi, Poria Edalat, Saman Edalat, and Sina Edalat with rape after a woman claimed the four men forced themselves upon her in a room at the Wynn hotel in July, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The accuser told police that the men held her down in a chair and took turns raping her and that she could not resist because she was too drunk. The men were arrested early in August, booked, but then released as the case moved forward.
Now, the entire case has been dismissed after prosecutors dropped the charges based on video evidence that did not align with the claims of the purported victim, the paper reported.
“After review of the facts of the case, it was clear that the allegations were completely fabricated,” lawyers for the accused men said in a statement released to the media. “The evidence confirmed the men’s innocence, and the state has cleared them of all charges.”
The case was so undermined that none of the four accused men felt it necessary to appear in court to hear the dismissal of the charges.
“We are so grateful to the justice system for recognizing that we were the victims in this case,” the men’s statement said.
The statement also came with a timely warning about the #MeToo movement: “We knew when the facts came out that the vicious allegations would be exposed as lies and our good names would be cleared. At this sensitive moment in our history, we believe that women should be respected and heard and believed. But as this case shows, it is also important to keep a critical eye on those willing to use the movement for their own selfish motives and remember that innocent until proven guilty is one of our country’s bedrock principles.”