1906 Tennessee Conviction Overturned

.c The Associated Press
February 25, 2000

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - Ninety-four years after a black man accused of raping a white woman was lynched by a mob, a judge overturned the man's conviction and death sentence Friday.

Ed Johnson was hanged in 1906 from a bridge spanning the Tennessee River by a mob that included Hamilton County Sheriff Joseph Shipp. The mob was angry that the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to stay Johnson's execution and to
consider his case.

``God Bless you all. I am an innocent man,'' were supposedly Johnson's last words.

Hamilton County Criminal Judge Doug Meyer overturned Johnson's conviction at the urging of a defense attorney haunted by the case since discovering it 30 years ago during unrelated court research.

``It really is hard for us in the white community to imagine how badly blacks were treated at that time,'' Meyer said as several observers in the crowded, small courtroom murmured in agreement. ``It's still a continuing struggle.''

The victim, Nevada Taylor, was walking home from her job in downtown Chattanooga when she was raped. She testified at Johnson's trial she thought he was the attacker, but she wasn't sure.

Leroy Phillips, the attorney who filed the petition on behalf of Johnson and his now-deceased family, argued that Johnson didn't get a fair trial because of an all-white jury and the judge's refusal to move the trial from Chattanooga, where there was much publicity about the case.

After the lynching, Supreme Court justices held Sheriff Shipp, his chief deputy and four members of the mob in contempt of court.

Shipp's grandson, Nicklin Dobbs, 78, called Friday's hearing a publicity stunt for a book Phillips wrote about the case.

``It's water under the bridge, as far as I'm concerned,'' he said. ``We can't go back and undo things that were done 90 years ago.''

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