29 Oct 2014 No Comments
In 1902, on a prairie in southwest Louisiana, six members of a farming family are found murdered. Albert Edwin Batson, a white, itinerant farm worker, rapidly descends from likely suspect to likely lynching victim as people in the surrounding countryside lusted for vengeance. In a territory where the locals were coping with the opening of the prairies by the railroad and the disorienting, disruptive advances of the rice and oil industries into what was predominantly cattle country, Batson, an outsider, made an ideal scapegoat.
“Until You Are Dead, Dead, Dead” tells the story of the legal trials of Batson for the murder of six members of the Earll family and of the emotional trial of his mother. She believed him innocent and worked tirelessly, but futilely, to save her son’s life. More than two dozen photos of Batson, his mother, and the principals involved in his arrest and convictions help bring this struggle to life.
Though the evidence against him was entirely circumstantial, most of the citizenry of southwest Louisiana considered him guilty. Sensational headlines in national and local newspapers stirred up so much emotion, authorities feared he would be lynched before they could hang him legally. Even-handed, objective, and thorough, the authors sift the evidence and lament the incompetence of Batson’s court-appointed attorneys. The state tried the young man and convicted him twice of the murders and sentenced him each time to death. Louisiana’s governor refused to accept the state pardon board’s recommendation that Batson’s final sentence be commuted to life in prison. A stranger in a rapidly changing land, Batson was hanged.
Published: November 1, 2014
The story began when he, or someone who looked like him, tried to sell some mules.
This is both a fascinating and disturbing look at a mass murder that took place in 1902, and a man who was, in all likelihood, put to death for a crime he did not commit. This is probably the oldest case I’ve read about in which the media almost single-handedly ensured the outcome of the trial.
I initially found this book a little hard to follow. I knew nothing about Ed Batson’s case prior to reading this. The author jumps right into the circumstances surrounding the murder and the assumptions leading to Batson’s prosecution. These early chapters are set up in a way more conducive to research and discussion than ease of understanding for the casual reader. I would have liked the opening to be more about Ed Batson and the area in which he lived, so I’d have a base to build upon. That does come later, though the content feels a little choppy.
The second half of this book flows with more ease, as we get into the actual trial and the turmoil surrounding the case. The author includes a lot of quotes taken from newspapers of that time, giving us an inside view of how badly the media had prejudiced the small community.
This is a compelling piece of history. While the case is old, we can still draw (too) many similarities in the way we allow media to prosecute and persecute at will.
Swift Justice for Ed Batson. Despicable Wrench Arrested Last Evening. ~ Headline from a Lake Charles newspaper