Circuit Court Judge Neil Thomas told the Downtown Kiwanis Club on Tuesday that there was a noted "lack of justice" in the 1906 Chattanooga rape case that resulted in the hanging of Ed Johnson off the Walnut Street Bridge by a lynch mob.
He faulted both the judge who presided over the case, Sam McReynolds, and the sheriff, Joseph F. Shipp.
Judge Thomas said Nevada Taylor, who was white, was raped by a black man near the Forest Hills Cemetery in St. Elmo.
He said the community was in a frenzy over the incident since there had been a number of similar assaults by black males at the time.
Judge Thomas said the Chattanooga Times got caught up in the frenzy, referring to "the Negro thugs."
He said the rape occurred Jan. 23 and, two days later, Ed Johnson was arrested.
Judge Thomas said a grand jury was quickly convened on a Saturday - just two days after the arrest, and a true bill was returned.
He said the trial was convened barely more than a week later - on Feb. 6. One of his great-uncles, W.G.M. Thomas, was on the defense team along with Lewis Shepherd and a third attorney. He said two of the lawyers had no criminal court experience.
He said attorney Thomas asked for a delay, but it was denied by Judge McReynolds.
Judge Thomas said, according to a book on the case by attorney Leroy Phillips and Mark Curriden, Judge McReynolds had a private meeting with prosecutor Matt Whitaker and planned how the case was to be fast tracked.
He said, "There was to be no delay and no justice."
The speaker said 36 jurors were summoned and 34 appeared. The jury for the death penalty case was selected in just an hour.
He said Nevada Taylor did not see who raped her, but Will Hixson came forward to say he had seen Johnson near the rape scene.
Judge Thomas said, "He didn't see him, but he wanted the $375 reward that had been offered."
He said the state's case was buttressed with a future Coca Cola bottling magnate, John T. Lupton, came forward and vouched for the integrity of Will Hixson.
Judge Thomas said the defense attorneys decided not to appeal, advising their client that he was more likely to get lynched if he did so.
But he said two black attorneys took the case and, after being denied by a federal judge in Knoxville, they won a rare trial appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court.
He told of a mob surrounding the county jail and finding that the prisoner had been moved. He said the crowd was told he was in Knoxville, but he actually was in Nashville.
However, Johnson was later brought back to Chattanooga and he said Sheriff Shipp "abandoned his post" and the prisoner, who continued to profess his innocence, was lynched.
Judge Thomas said Sheriff Shipp was convicted by federal authorities for not protecting his prisoner, but he said when he arrived back in town by train he "was greeted by a cheering crowd."