An important figure of these trials that is often forgotten is Judge James Horton from Athens, Alabama, who was the presiding judge at the retrial of Haywood Patterson. The nine black men were all found guilty upon completion of their trials in Scottsboro; however, the Supreme Court agreed that they could not be tried fairly in Scottsboro and moved the trials to Decatur. This is how the trials ended up taking place in Judge Horton’s court.
It would have been easy for Judge Horton to just simply let the jury’s verdict of guilty stand. He did not have to take a moral and verbal opposition against the verdict. However, this is exactly what Judge Horton did. On June 22, 1933, Judge James Horton boldly overturned the guilty verdict that the jury placed upon Haywood Patterson, claiming:
“The Court will not pursue the evidence any further. As heretofore stated, the law declares that a defendant should not be convicted without corroboration where the testimony of the prosecutrix bears on its face indications of improbability or unreliability and particularly when it is contradicted by other evidence. The testimony of the prosecutrix in this case is not only uncorroborated, but it also bears on its face indications of improbability and is contradicted by other evidence, and in addition thereto the evidence greatly preponderates in favor of the defendant. It therefore becomes the duty of the Court under the law to grant the motion made in this case.
It is therefore ordered and adjudged by the Court that the motion be granted; that the verdict of the jury in this case and the judgment of the Court sentencing this defendant to death be set aside and that a new trial is hereby ordered.”
- Video Link to the Monument dedication: http://www.decaturdaily.com/multimedia/judge-horton-monument-dedication/video_70976bc8-b543-11e7-9d8a-ebedc3fa3a65.html
Sarah Ming is a junior majoring in History and Political Science with a minor in Computing Tech and Applications. She was born and raised in small town Athens, Alabama. Sarah serves as Director of Outreach for UA Not On My Campus as well as Personnel Chair for Chi Omega Sorority. She loves history and reading more than anything else and proudly considers herself a huge nerd. Her post college plans are not set in stone, but she plans to continue in schooling and get her Masters Degree.