Tennessee v. Coca Cola Pallet Handler

I was contacted in 1995 by a rifle and safari customer who related that his father’s law firm had taken a Pro Bono case of a poor African American. The defendant had two prior convictions for burglary and this charge of 2nd degree murder would send him away for life WPOP. After perusing the evidence (autopsy photographs and various reports), I took the case.

The defendant had found the Lord, and found a church that was helping him get straight and got him a job at the local Coca Cola bottling plant. The church held fund raising drives and came to the firm with all the money they had, $250.00.

A retiring principal of the firm, an ex-F4U Corsair fighter pilot from the Pacific Theater in WW2, handled the case and we formed a great team.

The attorney successfully fought separation of witnesses and I sat behind the rail during the trial. He frequently cleaned his glasses and “Allow me to consult with my expert, Col. Alphin.”. He roasted the prosecution laboratory expert and then had him held for recall. When the defense started, he brought the lab expert to the stand and forced the lab expert to admit (using their own Griess test results) that the shooting did not happen as the prosecution witnesses stated; ie. the shot was not fired from 15 feet across the room but the muzzle of the revolver was close to the deceased’s chest and pointed at a down angle.
The defense contention was that the deceased produced the death revolver and, in a dispute over property, tried to kill the defendant. At the time, the defendant was trying to recover his belongings from his ex-girlfriend’s house, said ex being in a co-habitation arrangement with the deceased. A struggle ensued and the deceased was shot.

As the defense presentation continued, the Prosecutor became enraged, seized a demonstration cap pistol from the evidence table, and convinced the Judge to allow him to continue. The Prosecutor stood the defendant up, pointed the cap pistol at him and dared the defendant to save himself. In one move, the defendant swiped at the pistol barrel and the cap fired as the barrel was pointing down, just in front of the Prosecutor’s collarbone; exactly as I had theorized and testified, and exactly as the autopsy photographs and Griess Test showed.

The defense immediately rested. The jury got the case the following morning and returned a Not Guilty in less than an hour. When I last checked, in 1999, the ex-defendant had married, had a child, still worked at Coca-Cola, and was still right with the Lord.