Entries - Entry Category: Law

Watkins, George Claibourne

George Claibourne Watkins was a prominent attorney in nineteenth-century Arkansas. His partnership with Chester Ashley is one of the roots from which one of the state’s most respected firms, the Rose Law Firm, grew. In addition to his role in the development of the firm, Watkins also served briefly as chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. George C. Watkins was born on November 25, 1815, in Shelbyville, Kentucky, to Isaac Watkins and Marie Toncray Watkins. In late 1820, seeking new opportunities, the family set out for the newly opened territory of Arkansas. They arrived in March 1821, and, settling in what would become Little Rock (Pulaski County), the family quickly earned a place among the town’s most prominent early …

Watson, Jack Hearn, Jr.

Jack Hearn Watson Jr. is an attorney and former government official who served in a number of positions, including White House chief of staff, during the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Since leaving the White House, he has continued to be an active member of the legal and civic communities, both at home and abroad. Jack H. Watson Jr. was born on October 24, 1938, in El Paso, Texas. The son of a navy enlisted man and his wife, Watson grew up in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). He earned a BS from Vanderbilt University in 1960, and after a stint in the U.S. Marines, where he achieved the rank of captain, Watson attended Harvard Law School. After graduating in 1966, he …

Weaver, Emily

Emily Weaver of Batesville (Independence County) was a young woman who found herself caught up in the unorganized Civil War legal apparatus. Though charged by the Union as a spy and sentenced to hang, her case was eventually dropped for insufficient evidence. Emily Weaver was born to Abram Weaver and Mary Burton Weaver in Chester Valley, Pennsylvania. No birth date for her is given. In 1859, she, her mother, and six of her seven brothers moved to Batesville to be near relatives while Weaver’s father and oldest brother stayed behind to finalize business affairs for an eventual relocation to Memphis, Tennessee. The family stayed at Ninth and Main streets in a house she called “Pleasant Hill.” Weaver’s family was divided, …

West Memphis Three

The West Memphis Three are Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr., who—as teenagers—were convicted in 1994 of triple murder in West Memphis (Crittenden County). Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley were accused of killing three eight-year-old boys: Chris Byers, Stevie Branch, and Michael Moore. Their trial, which included assertions that the killings were part of a cultic ritual, and subsequent conviction set off a firestorm around the nation and world, inspired books and movies, and led to a movement to re-try or free the three men, believed by many to have been wrongly convicted. On May 6, 1993, Byers, Branch, and Moore were found in a water-filled ditch in the woods of the Robin Hood Hills subdivision less than twenty-four …

West, John (Lynching of)

On July 28, 1922, a laborer named John West was shot to death near Guernsey (Hempstead County) after an argument at a work site over a shared drinking cup. The Arkansas Gazette gives the cause for the lynching as “impudence.” According to the Gazette, on the morning of July 28, John West, an African American recently arrived from Kansas, was working on a paving gang in Hope (Hempstead County). He had an argument with the foreman on the job, Andrew Worthing, another Kansan, who was white. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the Bisbee (Arizona) Daily Review, the argument concerned West’s attempt to use the crew’s common drinking cup. When challenged by Worthing, West declared that “he was as …

Weston v. Arkansas

aka: Arkansas v. Weston
Joseph Harry Weston v. State of Arkansas dealt with two criminal cases that reached the Arkansas Supreme Court in the 1970s, the second of which led the court to declare the state’s old criminal-libel law unconstitutional. Joseph Harry Weston was the owner and editor of a tiny tabloid newspaper in Cave City (Sharp County) called the Sharp Citizen, which he printed off and on from 1972 until 1978. The paper, which was composed on typewritten stationery with hand-drawn headlines, reveled in strongly opinionated articles that alleged corruption and other scandalous behavior by public officials, businessmen, and common citizens, including Weston’s rural neighbors. The editor’s crusades got national attention but put him into almost perpetual conflict with law-enforcement officials, prosecutors, and …

Westside School Shooting

In the early afternoon of March 24, 1998, two students from Westside Middle School, located approximately two miles west of Jonesboro (Craighead County), conducted an armed ambush on teachers and students, which resulted in five dead and ten others injured. The shooters, Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson, were arrested and prosecuted for the crime. The incident was one of two school shootings in Arkansas and one of several school shootings across the nation that adjusted school administrators’ and law enforcement officers’ concepts on school security and response plans to violent incidents at schools. The students and teachers had returned from spring break the day before the shooting. Fifth period was just starting at 12:35 p.m. when a fire alarm caused …

Wheeler, Lloyd Garrison

Lloyd Garrison Wheeler was a prominent and trailblazing African-American lawyer, political figure, and businessman in Illinois and Arkansas. Lloyd G. Wheeler was born in Mansfield, Ohio, on May 29, 1848. His father was active in the Underground Railroad, but when Ohio passed a law making the harboring of slaves illegal, the family relocated to Chatham, Canada, where Wheeler received his early education. When his mother died, he returned to the United States, settling in Chicago, Illinois. There, he worked at a variety of jobs, including on the railroad and as a shoe black. Throughout this period, his greatest ambition was a career in law. He became the first black mail carrier in Chicago while studying law in the office of …

Wilkerson v. State

The 1947 landmark case of Wilkerson v. the State of Arkansas, in which two African-American men were prosecuted after a deadly highway shooting incident, ended the exclusion of African Americans from Jefferson County juries, marking the first time black jurors had served in the state since Reconstruction. The case also received extensive media coverage because the defense attorneys—William Harold Flowers, who was a leading figure in the civil rights movement in Arkansas in the 1940s, and Zephaniah Alexander Looby, a civil rights leader and attorney from Tennessee—directly attacked unfair and discriminatory Jim Crow laws and practices in open court. On February 9, 1947, off-duty Jefferson County special deputy sheriff George Cletus Bryant, his brother Archie Bryant, and C. W. Winston …

Williams, Sidney Banks, Jr.

Sidney B. Williams Jr. was a pioneering African-American athlete as well as an accomplished businessman and attorney. The first black man to quarterback a Big Ten team when he was at the University of Wisconsin, he later combined his training in chemical engineering with a law degree to become a leading patent attorney. Sidney Banks Williams Jr. was born on December 31, 1935, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Sidney B. Williams Sr. and Eloise Gay Williams. He grew up in Little Rock as the only child in a single-parent household, being raised by his mother. Williams graduated from Dunbar High School in 1954. At Dunbar, he was president of the senior class and also starred in football, basketball, and …

Wilson-Anthony Duel

The only recorded violent death on the floor of the Arkansas General Assembly occurred on December 4, 1837, in a knife brawl leaving state Representative Major Joseph J. Anthony of Randolph County dead at the hands of Speaker of the House Colonel John Wilson of Clark County, who was subsequently expelled and tried for murder. The Arkansas Gazette cited it as “another example of the barbarity of life in Arkansas,” lamenting how it “stained the history of the state.” The events have long been obscured by variants of the narrative. Speaker Wilson, who was presiding over an extraordinary session of the Arkansas General Assembly called by Governor James Conway to deal with a predicted tax surplus, was debating a wolf-scalp bill, sent …

Wilson, Alexander (Lynching of)

On October 20, 1919, an African-American man named Alexander (Alex) Wilson was lynched near Marianna (Lee County) for allegedly murdering Ruth Murrah (identified in many newspaper articles as Rosa or Rose), who was about nineteen years old. Wilson had attacked Ruth, who was killed, and a relative named Estelle, who escaped. There was a Murrah family in Lee County as early as 1880. Charles Murrah was working as a farm laborer in Bear Creek Township and living with his wife, Celia, and their one-year-old daughter, Mary. A family member (probably a daughter) named Clara Belle, age fourteen, married thirty-one-year-old William Clifton in August 1893. By 1900 Murrah, age fifty-four, owned his own farm in Bear Creek Township. Also in the …

Wilson, Tom (Lynching of)

In late February 1884, Tom (sometimes referred to as Thomas) Wilson, an African-American man, was lynched near Conway (Faulkner County) for allegedly attempting to assault a woman identified only as Mrs. Griffy. Several other newspaper accounts identify her husband as William Griffy. No further information is available on either Wilson or the Griffy family in Faulkner County. According to a report published in the Arkansas Gazette on February 21, the lynching had occurred “several days since.” According to the Gazette and several other national newspapers, including the Little Falls Transcript, William Griffy was away from his farm overnight when Wilson entered the house and attempted to assault Mrs. Griffy. She screamed and attacked him with a fire shovel, whereupon he …

Wolfe, Paul

Paul Wolfe was a lawyer and World War II veteran who later became the circuit judge for the Twelfth Judicial District of Arkansas (Scott and Sebastian counties) and was appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to organize and chair a committee to write what became the textbook for the new National Council of State Trial Judges under the administration of the American Bar Association. He also served as a member of the Arkansas Model Criminal Jury Instructions Committee. Paul Wolfe was born on January 5, 1908, in Weir, Kansas, to John Walter Wolfe and Myra Este Vasser Wolfe. His first name was Harry, but he preferred to use his middle name, Paul. The Wolfe family moved to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) …

Wood v. Strickland

Wood v. Strickland is the title of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that grew out of a local dispute over a teenage prank perpetrated by three high school students of the Mena Special School District. This case has attained an importance far beyond its origins, helping to define the constitutional rights of public school students and the parameters under which public officials may be sued for monetary damages in federal court. On February 18, 1972, three students—Virginia Crain, Peggy Strickland, and Jo Wall—at Mena (Polk County) confessed to spiking the punch at an extracurricular function with twenty-four ounces of a flavored malt liquor beverage. Principal Duddy Waller suspended the three students for a week. The same day, meeting in a …

Wood, Carroll D.

Carroll D. Wood was an important figure in Arkansas legal history. Although he served on the Arkansas Supreme Court for over thirty-five years, he is arguably best known for his unsuccessful candidacy for governor in 1904. Carroll D. Wood was born on July 8, 1858, in Ashley County; he was the son of Baptist minister John S. Wood and Martha Bussey Wood; Wood’s mother died when he was very young. The Reverend Wood remarried, and his second wife, Mary Kelsey Wood, provided the future jurist’s earliest education. Wood also attended local Hamburg (Ashley County) schools before pursuing a degree at what is now the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). Following graduation in 1879, he read law with …

Woodward, William (Lynching of)

William Woodward, a white farmer, was lynched by a mob in Searcy County in June 1900 for killing his step-daughter, Lurena Thomas, after she apparently charged him with sexually assaulting her. At the time of the 1900 census, William Woodward, age thirty-five, was living in Richland Township with his wife, Margaret J. Woodward (thirty-nine), two daughters and four sons ranging from two to eleven, and step-daughter Lurena, then eighteen. (The census rendered the family name as Woodard, but all news reports give the name as Woodward.) According to the Marshall Republican, in a report reprinted in the Arkansas Democrat, Woodward was a farmer known for the ill treatment he afforded his wife and step-daughter, having reportedly whipped both on several …

Wright v. Arkansas

Wright v. Arkansas was a case involving same-sex marriage in Arkansas. Beginning with a May 2014 decision by a state district court judge, which overturned Arkansas’s ban on gay marriage, the case was stalled in the courts for the next fourteen months. In response to the original decision, one that came amidst the turmoil that surrounded the issue of gay marriage nationwide, the state attorney general secured a temporary stay of the ruling from the Arkansas Supreme Court. Subsequently, additional efforts were undertaken to get a full review by the state’s highest court and then, alternatively, in a special court. A change in the occupants of the offices of both governor and state attorney general contributed to delays, however, and …

Wright v. Wright

Wright v. Wright was a 1970 case heard by the Arkansas Supreme Court that addressed the basic question of whether a person who murders his or her parent can then inherit from the estate of the victim. The case of Wright v. Wright had its roots in the September 1953 rifle slaying of Junius Everett Wright and his wife, Macle Cullum Wright, by their son Leslie A. Wright. Accused of a double murder, Wright was convicted for killing his mother and received a life sentence for that crime. Prosecutors opted not to try the seventeen-year-old former high school basketball player for the murder of his father. He was subsequently paroled in 1964, and upon release from prison, he married Lynda …

Wright, Susan Webber

aka: Susan Webber Carter
As a U.S. district judge, Susan Webber Wright received international attention during the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones against U.S. president Bill Clinton. Wright later made global headlines in a landmark decision when she found Clinton, as president of the United States, to be in civil contempt of court. Susan Webber was born in Texarkana (Miller County) on September 6, 1948, to Betty Webber and attorney Thomas E. Webber III; she had one younger sister. When Webber was sixteen years old, her father died, and her mother went to work at a bank to provide for the family. Webber won a scholarship to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia, from which she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in …

Yancey v. Faubus

Yancey v. Faubus 238 F. Supp. 290 (1965) was a legal case involving legislative reapportionment in Arkansas in the aftermath of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that not only established the principle of “one person, one vote,” but also determined that, by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment, that principle was applicable to the apportionment for representation in the state legislatures as well. The challenge to the apportionment process in Arkansas originated in a suit filed by John Yancey on July 15, 1964, exactly one month after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Reynolds v. Sims 377 U.S. 533 (1964). Yancey, a registered voter in Pulaski County, filed suit against Governor Orval Faubus, Secretary of State Kelly …

Yancey, William (Lynching of)

William Yancey, accused of being a horse thief, was attacked by a mob and hanged in western Bradley County while being transported from the jail in Hampton (Calhoun County) in 1879. William Yancey, a white man described as “a somewhat notorious and disreputable character,” was arrested in May 1879 in Calhoun County on charges of stealing horses. On May 17, lawmen removed him from the jail in Hampton, with sources varying regarding whether he was to be taken to Princeton (Dallas County) to face other charges or to a jail in Bradley County because the Hampton lockup was not secure. Whatever the case, he was taken to the Lagle Creek bottoms in Bradley County and hanged. The Goodspeed history of …