The Homicidal Irony That Shadowed Jesse Hill Ford
By the time the trial began, the maximum charge had been reduced to second-degree murder.
As prospective jurors were questioned, many of them reported associations with various members of the Ford family.
Some appeared biased in his favor. One said, "There's just some things I've been brought up to believe and one of them is the right of a man to defend his property."
Of the twelve jurors selected, eleven men were white and one was black.
The prosecution called the victim's father, George Doaks, Sr..
"George, when was the last time you saw your son alive?"
The elder Doaks told him it was shortly before George Jr. was killed. "He held his little baby out to me --" he began. He could not finish because he fell into tears.
Allie Andrews was a major prosecution witness. Her hair fashionably styled in an Afro, the teenager testified that she had not noticed the "No Trespassing" signs around the property. She also testified that George had tried to leave after seeing Jesse.
Imprisoned by Irony reports that during the trial, Jesse developed a stunning conspiracy theory. He believed that Allie wanted to avenge her cousin Dorothy Claybrook's reputation so she had conspired with George to kill Jesse and his family. This theory was especially odd since George had been unarmed.
When Jesse testified, he accused Allie of making some of the anonymous threatening phone calls.
"I recognized her voice, not as the average person might, but as one who makes their living by listening to other people talk," he asserted. "Many critics have noted that I have the finest ear for dialogue of any American writer."
In the prosecutor's summation, he conceded that this was not a case of first-degree murder. Then he added, "But if ever there was a case tried in this temple of justice for second-degree murder, this should be it."
The prosecutor admitted the victim had been trespassing but pointed out that trespassing is no reason to kill someone. "Ford may be a hot-tempered man who wants no invasion of his property," the prosecutor commented. "But gentlemen of the jury, a man must be held responsible for his actions, whether his imagination runs away with him or not." Finally, echoing a point made in Jesse's most famous work, he asked, "Do we believe in justice, disregarding all prejudices, all races and colors?"
The defense summation stated, "This strongest instinct of them all in the human heart is the instinct for self-preservation. . . How far can a man be pushed until he loses his mind." The attorney urged them not to be influenced by the insult to Humboldt some found in his writing. "He's just a person trying to make a living like everybody else," he asserted. "Just because he's going about it differently should not be held against him."
The jury came back with a verdict of not guilty on all counts.
Soon after the trial, Frady visited the Doaks family. He told Rev. Mr. Doaks he was sorry for his son's death. The grieving father spoke straight from his heart. "You're sorry?" he asked rhetorically. "Then maybe you can guess how I feel. He was my own flesh, my own bone and blood - and Jesse Hill Ford spilled it. But what can you do? My boy was shot down in cold blood - he didn't have a knife or a gun on him - but we don't have justice. Nowadays, they just carry it a little further, you know what I mean. I know we're not the only ones who've lost children. It's been happening with colored people down here all through the years. I imagine there's gonna be some more suffering before it's over with. We Christian people, we believe vengeance belongs to the Lord. But Mr. Ford's conscience won't let him forget this."