A Prudent Resolution???


Most would believe it to be virtually impossible to laugh while being choked to death. Unless, you’re Henry's father, who spent his entire career establishing the fact anything was possible with the proper mindset. Henry Fletcher, on trial for murder, had placed himself in the hands of the aristocracy of 1959 Hillsboro, South Carolina, which could neither understand nor accept him as they’re equal.

Henry Fletcher had watched his father die but seemed to feel nothing and was not in the slightest, phased by losing his father’s love.  I imagine in his mind he was busy noting objective details never to be shared nor forgotten. Later on, he would come to understand those hideous details. Impassively noted, they were what would save his soul and world from collapsing around him. His mother a gentle, reasonably successful woman had difficulty recognizing her son as the genius of science the court had painted him to be. She could not account for this in his heritage. Her bewildered efforts to understand her son made him impatient yet guilty for what should have been a natural love for her. Henry spent the entire 4 ½ weeks of the trial as a man who when looking at his mother, would turn his head away but at the same time keep His gaze fixed on her. A habit of suspicion or was it of reluctance to let go? What should have been called an enduring love became an affliction of an inherently weak person? Everyone in the courtroom knew Henry to be a disturbed person, except for his half- brother, Chester, who thought of him as being candidly cunning.  Chester, the brother from another mother, did not accept Henry as any relation to him. Chester attended the trial every day, sitting in the very last row, in the very last seat on the right-hand side and did not move except for recesses. He listened to every word and calculated all too they’re level of significance. The only reason he was there was to see the murderer of his father found guilty and punished to the full extent of the law.

 My name is Gavin Flynn, an investigative reporter. The story I’m about to share was given to me by juror number nine of Henry’s trial. The jury was charged by the state of South Carolina, to decide the fate of Henry Fletcher. Henry had been accused of killing his father, a fact that was not in dispute. They were to decide whether he was guilty of second- degree murder, manslaughter or not guilty by reason of self-defense. Number nine’s account begins Friday morning at 10:00 AM – June 23, 1959, their first day after being adjourned to the jury room to begin deliberation.

Number nine challenged his memory to bestow on me as much as he could remember. To help better understand the debate, it is essential I share with you that Henry was of mixed race. His mother was black and his father white. I was told it was a troubling piece of information for the jury during deliberation. This was a time when there were still Jim Crow laws and many people felt mixed relationships, a sin.

I will describe most of the individual jurors by their juror number and not their name. Juror number nine sat at the table exchanging glances with all of the other men and women. The forewoman announced they should start by introducing themselves along with a modicum of personal information. Five of the jurors are not described because as the debate went forward, it became apparent they were going to side with whoever would get them out of that room the quickest.

As described to me, juror number two had hair the color of dirty snow. He wore a tattered windbreaker and looked between 60 and 70 years old. He lurched and gazed about while in his seat. He had intense, deep blue eyes that were pink in their corners and watery. His cheeks were ruddy with broken veins and the ruined good looks about him added to the fact he was also indignant toward the world.

 Juror number four was a young man in his late 20s who dressed in ordinary rough work clothes. He was small in stature with dark purple eyes which seemed to possess a peculiar glaze. He had small ears, clear jaws, and lean cheeks. It was the perfection of his good hard looks on his small-scale which made you notice him and yet it was obvious as he spoke that he commanded a very sharp mind.

Number five was a woman in her mid-50s who suffered from arthritis, but a sweet smile masked the pain of her disease. Behind that smile, I was told most couldn’t help but think she had a heart beating with rage and consuming desire, to punish others less fortunate than she. She wore glasses with extra thick lenses and when she looked at you, her vision seemed to penetrate relentlessly right through you. Her hair was glossy black and she often made graceful gestures outlining and commenting upon, its luster.

Juror number seven, an English history professor, displayed the standard college professor look. A bearded face, a wide lapel jacket made of tweed thread and so forth and so on. Also in his mid-50s, he spent most of the debate doling out different catchwords to express his jargon and make himself sound intellectual.

Number ten was an ex-Marine with the toughest looking face you could imagine. It was crisscrossed with deep scars which might have been knife scars or service wounds. He had a fixed expression of aggressive hostility but as he spoke the others quickly learned his demeanor was that of an old, almost somber aristocrat.

Their forewoman was in her mid-40s and when talking sounded like a small gray middle-age man. She had one of those voices that carried-- on warm summer nights. Talking, was her very medium. It proved to be a useful tool as the forewoman.

 Everyone obsesses over something that is often concealed. It is regularly as innocent as it is guilty and maybe the central fact about number nine from which all actions radiate. He repeatedly questioned his personal decisions and would murmur to himself as not being a good thing. He was not necessarily an original thinker, often cross-examining his personal experiences. It was his intent as he reported to me to conjure as much wisdom as possible through listening for the actual substance of what was made evident during the trial. At the time, he was 48 years old and open to any truth, wholly perceived and precisely conveyed and delivered through witness testimony.

The foreperson began debate without any discussion by suggesting they take a vote now, just to see where the jury as a whole stood before they began discussions. A secret ballot was taken. The results were juror number nine plus seven others voting guilty versus four-- not guilty. This initial vote they contended gave all a good starting point to begin deliberations. 

Juror number seven, the English history professor, immediately jumped in. “For this to be a resonating experience. We must understand the cast of mind, the profundity of thought while looking for any technical excellence or integrity of invention all while grabbing hold of the pulse of life.”

The forewoman jokingly fired back, “Excuse me, Sir, we’re not charged to write an essay but decide on the facts that have been presented to us.”

Number 10. the ex-Marine chimed in. “I wonder if anyone else in the room picked up on the testimony which sounded like young Henry’s father’s actions tended to move to destroy Henry’s hope. It makes me believe Henry’s happiness, his love for himself, caused him to live desperately on memories.”

Juror number five commented, “I have to wonder if Henry was looking for some type of absolution.”

Juror number two, the older man, shared his thoughts, “I believe Henry is obsessive and at the same time self-critical. Whatever the degree of his talent or genius he probably feels superior to those around him.” He continued, “If he does possess any gifts, he also lacks humility.”

Juror number four said, “It seems to me he felt he was being dragged along by some sort of dynamic negativity and his efforts to comply and agree only exhausted him."

The forewoman followed, “I could almost see the concentration between his ears. It registered to me, Henry showed a habitual power of the little amenities, of the tried and proved charm that he could easily arrange as a self-image at any time and anyplace. I am amazed not what he told us but how he told us and how he so easily was able to conjure up communicative essentials on a whim.”

Number nine said he felt compelled to add to the discussion, “Motivation is the key to understanding. Even a murderer has his own good reasons to fortify himself for the ordeal ahead. Motivation, justification, rationalization, vilification and even distortion are the basis of human conflict. I believe for us to make an informed decision we must understand Henry’s motive.”

Then someone else jumped back in and said. “Did you hear the testimony where Henry defied a cruel beating, evidently for the love of his mother?”The testimony went on to give details that she gave him something he had never had before. Self-respect, his awakening to manhood, the need for making money, and the fascination of seeing the world. Although there was palpable tension between Henry and his mother there must've been at least at some point in their relationship a strong element of love.

The conversation and debate began to bounce back and forth rapidly between the jurors. There was a discussion about Henry’s environment and the influences it should’ve had on his daily life. One of the jurors said, “He believed Henry developed an appetite for money, easy money.” Then another said, “The environment is only a part, but a very large part, to be sure, of ready-made motivation.”

The discussion then turned to Henry's mental state at the time of the murder. There was testimony about how Henry surrendered to the police. He was calm and serene. The fact also that Henry himself called the police. There was testimony that Henry with the utmost self- possession had sat down in a rocking chair and waited for his arrest. He acted as if he had no care in the world and seemed relaxed, even jovial.

Then someone reminded the group, “According to the psychiatrist, Henry was absolutely sane. He was responsible, for his actions even though they said he eagerly volunteered all the information that would’ve helped find him guilty, for sure.”

 There was the testimony given which disclosed Henry’s father and mother were not married. They only shared a five- year, ongoing affair. Henry’s father must’ve felt some responsibility because he had stayed as close to Henry as he could while keeping knowledge of the affair from his wife. Tension began to grow between them. At some point the unbearable atmosphere had to explode, shattering all the make-believe, lies, and hypocrisy.

Finally, Henry’s father tried to explain to him, their relationship would be no more. Henry was so dependent on his father’s involvement he became lost as to how to respond. In his desperation, he thought he was losing his last shred of human dignity. He begged and he threatened, but nothing seemed to matter anymore. He now fought only for the humiliating privilege of being near his father.

One of the jurors offered the thought, “Every living soul is eternally searching and fighting for security. Henry believed it was important to feel important, coupled with the belief that he had his father’s absolute loyalty. To Henry that added up to his father’s love; in short, for Henry, love was security.”

 Another juror attempted to steer them back to the discussion of motivation. He said, “To motivate is to instigate; to incite to action; to induce to reason; to stimulate. One can be inspired by love, or spurred to action by hate; fanaticism will move someone between both polls to the point where they cannot distinguish between the two.”

The discussion turned toward physical evidence. There was a debate about the pistol Henry used, a 32 caliber revolver that belonged to Henry’s father. It was speculated but never proven that Henry had stolen the handgun from his father's collection of firearms. Henry’s father, a very wealthy man, was immensely influential in the state of South Carolina. Therefore, the lack of coverage by local, state, and national news media was confusing at best. It surfaced later about Henry’s father. Even though he was rich and influential, he was not necessarily liked by most and feared by many.

It was disclosed that Henry was not in his father’s Will, only his son Chester and Chester’s mother who had passed away five years earlier. That made Chester the sole recipient of any inheritance. That eliminated the motive of money for Henry. There was testimony that Henry and his father had many verbal confrontations. Henry’s father would be dismissive about their relationship, clarifying to Henry, “There was no relationship to speak of.”

There was testimony that Henry’s father was shot in the chest and throat at a distance of between five and ten feet. Henry claimed he fired in self-defense when his father raised a 45 caliber automatic toward him and said, “This is goodbye forever Henry.” The problem for Henry, there was no 45 caliber pistol found at the scene. Henry said his father fired once but missed. He insisted the bullet had to be lodged in the large, heavy sofa behind him. Henry, you remember, had gone out on the front porch and sat in a rocking chair waiting for the police. By the time the police arrived and entered the house, somehow and mysteriously, the thick pillows from the sofa had become thinner and with a different design. Henry’s insistence about the pistol and pillows would fall on deaf ears that night.

Number nine continued talking about different motives. He also reminded the jury, “That the town was expecting a guilty verdict,” putting additional but undo pressure on their 12 souls. Again, there was no doubt Henry pulled the trigger. The only question, did he fear for his own life?

The final day of deliberation began with a different climate caused by juror number nine. He said he had changed his mind completely overnight and was now confident Henry had shot his father in self-defense. He insisted the prosecution had not proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Deliberation continued throughout the day. The other jurors changed their minds or simply gave in to number nine’s dogged and relentless orientation. The forewoman sent word to the judge they had arrived at a decision.

Everyone was notified of a decision and within a short time all were in their places in the courtroom. The judge asked the forewoman if they had come to a unanimous decision, she responded, “Yes- your Honor.” The judge asked Henry and the defense team to stand and face the jury. He then said to the forewoman, “What say you?” As the forewoman read the decision of not guilty by reason of self-defense, many in the courtroom began to yell and curse the jury. The judge banged his gavel threatening to clear the courtroom. Four sheriffs’ officers surrounded Henry and his defense team to escort them out of the courthouse and hopefully to safety.

As Henry was being escorted down the back stairway, Chester, his stepbrother, blocked their descent. He pulled a 45 automatic from his waist and pointed it directly at Henry. Yelling at him with tears he said, “You’re not just going walk away from this – – you half-breed SOB.” An emotional Chester fell to his knees and laid the gun on the floor. “I despise you,” Chester said, “but I can’t bring myself to kill you. I’m not a killer. Don’t ever let me ever see your face again.” Henry was put into a waiting car and whisked away.

It’s been a month since the decision that shook the town. I’m back again interviewing juror number nine at his home. I’ve spent the last 30 days snooping around and asking questions. Most people did not want to talk to me at all and those who did would only talk to me with anonymity. I had uncovered some very interesting scenarios, but nothing that could be proven in court. Henry had left town for California, driving a brand-new Cadillac convertible. I also learned that 50% of his father’s cash holdings were deposited in a new account in California. Chester held on to all but one of the properties plus the other 50% of the money. Chester sold one piece of property for a 10th of its value. Juror number nine it seemed was the benefactor of 180 acres of prime land at a ridiculously low price. I learned he had been in pursuit of this property for more than 10 years.

I ask number nine about his good fortune to which he replied,” Yeah how about that, the whole thing kind of caught me off guard too, but you know it is what it is.”

“I’m just thinking out loud so don’t take what I say personally unless of course, it is personal, but it seems funny, the old man with all his money and influence. Then there’s the two sons at each other’s throat, a trial which was supposedly predetermined and now strange bedfellows are living happily ever after.”

 I now knew that the motive, never determined during the trial, was in fact money and was also premeditated. As number nine said,” it is what it is.” Who am I to question the rich and powerful in 1959 small town Hillsboro, South Carolina?

                                                     THE END           

February 03, 2020 17:59

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Ola Hotchpotch
02:44 Feb 10, 2020

Good story. I specially like the lines strange bedfellows living happily ever after and the motive being money and the murder premeditated and the trial predetermined.


James Freeze
17:14 Feb 10, 2020

Thank you for your kind words and I'm happy you enjoy my story.


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