164 S.E. 415 (S.C. 1932), 13397, State v. Williams

Docket Nº:13397.
Citation:164 S.E. 415, 166 S.C. 63
Opinion Judge:BLEASE, C.J. PER CURIAM.
Attorney:Rogers & Ellerbe, of Bennettsville, for appellant. M. J. Hough, Sol., of Chesterfield, and J. K. Owens, of Bennettsville, for the State.
Case Date:April 29, 1932
Court:Supreme Court of South Carolina

Page 415

164 S.E. 415 (S.C. 1932)

166 S.C. 63




No. 13397.

Supreme Court of South Carolina

April 29, 1932

Appeal from General Sessions Circuit court of Marlboro County; E. C. Dennis, Judge.

Hilton Williams was convicted of murder, and he appeals.


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Rogers & Ellerbe, of Bennettsville, for appellant.

M. J. Hough, Sol., of Chesterfield, and J. K. Owens, of Bennettsville, for the State.


On September 14, 1930, the dead body of John L. James, a white man about fifty years of age, of Laurinburg, N. C., was found in an automobile on highway No. 9, in Marlboro county, at a point about two hundred yards distant from a house known as "the old Charles Irby house," where negroes resided. The examination of the attending physicians showed that death was caused by a knife wound inflicted upon the right side of the neck of the deceased, about an inch below the angle of the jaw, the wound extending about two and one-half inches in length and varying from one-half of an inch to one and a quarter inches in depth, cutting the jugular vein.

The investigations as to the death of James, made by the peace officers, brought on the arrest of several colored persons, some as witnesses, others as defendants, and finally resulted [166 S.C. 67] in the filing of charges that Hilton Williams, Tommy Newton, Johnny Moore, Julia Moore, Streater Scott, and Walter Coachman, all colored, were involved in some manner or other in the homicide of James. Hilton Williams and Tommy Newton fled to the state of Georgia, but were soon apprehended.

At the September, 1930, term of the court of general sessions for Marlboro county, the grand jury returned an indictment charging Hilton Williams and Tommy Newton with the murder of James, and Streater Scott, Walter Coachman, Johnny Moore, and Julia Moore as accessories after the fact to the murder. The defendants were arraigned on September 23d, and entered pleas of not guilty. On motion of counsel for some of them, including Williams, his honor, Judge Grimball then presiding, continued the case beyond the term.

At the February, 1931, term of the court, because of illness in the immediate family of one of the attorneys for the defendants, the case was again continued. At that term, the defendant, Newton, was also indicted in a separate bill as an accessory after the fact.

The case, on the first indictment, finally came on for trial before his honor, Judge Dennis, at a special term of the court of general sessions, convened on May 4, 1931. Messrs. Rogers & Ellerbe appeared as attorneys for the defendants Hilton Williams, Streater Scott, and Walter Coachman, and announced

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that they did not appear for the other defendants. The presiding judge assigned Messrs. Evans and Freeman of the Bennettsville bar to represent Johnny Moore and Julia Moore. Those two defendants, after conference with their attorneys, announced withdrawal of their former pleas of not guilty, and formally entered pleas of guilty of the crime charged against them. The charge of murder against Newton was nol prossed by the solicitor, and no counsel was appointed to represent him. The indictment against him on the charge of accessory after [166 S.C. 68] the fact remained of force. Julia Moore and Newton were used by the state as witnesses against their codefendants.

Hilton Williams, charged alone as principal in the murder, and Streater Scott and Walter Coachman, charged as accessories after the fact, were tried together. The trial lasted three days. The jury convicted Williams of murder, and he was sentenced to death by electrocution. The defendants Scott and Coachman were convicted as accessories after the fact, and were sentenced to imprisonment for a term of one year. After the trial of Williams, Scott, and Coachman, Newton entered a plea of guilty on the accessory charge against him, and received a sentence of six months' imprisonment. Johnny Moore and Julia Moore, on their pleas of guilty, were also sentenced to imprisonment, but we do not find it clearly stated in the record what sentences were imposed upon them.

The appeal to this court is on the part of the defendant Hilton Williams alone.

The essential facts of the homicide, according to the theory of the state, as developed in the testimony it presented, were as follows: James, not known to any of the defendants, late in the afternoon or early night of September 13, 1930, was in the vicinity of "the brickyard," not far from the Irby house, occupied by Julia and Geneva Moore. James met up with Tommy Newton, a boy of seventeen years, and engaged Newton to drive his automobile for him, the two to go back in a little while to North Carolina. Newton desired to get some clothes from his home, and at his instance James went with him to the Irby house that Newton might get in touch with a colored woman who would let him have the clothes. On arrival at the Irby house, Julia Moore, Geneva Moore, and Frances Bradley, nicknamed "Sweet," were on the porch of the house. Newton and the colored women engaged in conversation, with particular reference to locating the woman whom Newton desired to see about the clothes. The woman was expected to return soon, and [166 S.C. 69] for that reason James and Newton waited. James did not go into the house, but he walked "around the house." While Newton was sitting in the car alone, Hilton Williams came up, spoke pleasantly to Newton, and went into the house. He was followed therein by "Sweet." While Williams was in the house, James came back to the car and seated himself therein by Newton. Some fifteen or twenty minutes later, Williams came from the house, approached the car, and asked Newton for a drink of whisky. Newton replied that he had no whisky. Williams then asked James, who evidently had been drinking, for a drink of whisky, and James denied having any. Upon James inquiry who Williams was, the latter gave his name. James and Williams became involved in an argument and cursing as to Williams being a "bad man." While James was still seated in the car, Williams grabbed him in the collar and cut him in the throat with his knife. Newton jumped out of the car, at the time begging Williams not to attack James. James had no weapon, and made no effort at any time to injure or attack Williams. Williams and Newton ran away, the latter claiming he was afraid to remain, his act of running being due mostly to his fear of Williams. James got out of the car, with the evident purpose of getting into the house, but fell on the way. Newton and Williams returned in a few minutes to the place of the difficulty, and found James still living. Upon inquiry if James wished to go to a doctor, the dying man replied "No." Within a few minutes he expired. The women, Julia Moore, Geneva Moore, and Frances Bradley, were not in the yard when the difficulty happened, and right after the fight they left the house. Newton and Williams left again. Later Williams, Newton, Johnny Moore, and Julia Moore returned to the scene of the difficulty. Williams drove James' automobile from the yard to the highway, and in his operation of the machine stripped its gears so it would not run. Williams, Newton, Johnny Moore, and Julia Moore removed the dead body of James from the yard, and placed [166 S.C. 70] it in the automobile, using in the moving a pole, produced in the court, owned and kept by Julia Moore in connection with her clothesline. After the body was placed in the automobile, the machine was pushed along the road for about a hundred yards. From the body of James, Williams took some money, said to be a little more than $2 in change, and some papers, and perhaps a watch of the deceased. Williams and Newton decided to leave the country, Newton claiming that his agreement to go was due to advice given to him by his uncle, Streater Scott, and because Williams told him that both the latter and Newton would be lynched. Walter Coachman, Streater Scott, and others accompanied Williams and Newton, in an automobile, to Society Hill, Coachman driving the car. At Society Hill, Williams and Newton took a train for Georgia, Williams, with money of his own and contributions furnished him by his relatives, paying the necessary expenses of the trip for Newton as well as for himself. The knife used by Williams in the affray was

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given by him to his mother, who threw it in a well, but later caused it to be recovered, and turned it over to counsel for her son.

The evidence for the state, as summarized, came mainly from Newton. Some of the testimony given by that witness, however, was corroborated by other witnesses, particularly Julia Moore and Geneva Moore. The two women positively asserted that James at no time went into the house. Some circumstantial evidence, tending to show that the difficulty between James and Williams occurred in the yard and about the automobile, was related by the peace officers who visited the scene of the difficulty soon after the death of James was discovered.

The appellant admitted the killing of James and pleaded self-defense. The facts, as related by him, went this way: The home of Julia and Geneva Moore was a resort for immoral purposes, visited by both white and colored men. On the day preceding the night of the difficulty, through Julia [166 S.C. 71] Moore, he had made an appointment for "Sweet," whose right name he did not know, to meet him for immoral purposes at Julia's home that night. He arrived there about 10 o'clock in the night. On arrival he found James and Julia Moore sitting at the end of the porch. Newton and "Sweet" were at the car. The appellant and "Sweet" went into the house, going to the dining room. Newton and Geneva Moore went into the one bedroom of the house. James and Julia Moore went into the...

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