Jess Hollins was sentenced to death for raping a white woman on December 30, 1931, four days after the alleged attack occurred. He was illiterate and at the time he confessed to the crime had not seen an attorney. The judge who sentenced him to death stated that he remembered the Tulsa race riot and feared mob violence.
In December 1932 the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals granted Hollins a new trial, on the grounds that he had not voluntarily waived his right to counsel and a jury trial. Judge Will H. Chappel wrote that "this ignorant, defenseless Negro, with the terror of the mob in his mind, did not and could not voluntarily do anything, and therefore did not waive any of his constitutional rights." At trial in 1934 Hollins was found guilty and again sentenced to death. The jury that convicted him had no blacks on it; indeed, blacks were systematically excluded from the jury pool. Moreover, the prosecutor, Sebe Christian, used inflammatory language with the jury. In arguing for the death penalty he asked, "What are you going to do? I don't want life imprisonment in this case because that is too uncertain--would rather you would turn him loose. I think probably somebody might take care of him."
Even though U.S. Supreme Court and Oklahoma precedent held that deliberate exclusion of blacks from juries violated the Fourteenth Amendment, the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals found that Hollins failed to show sufficient evidence of exclusion "solely on account" of race. In 1935 in Hollins v. State of Oklahoma the U.S. Supreme Court, looking at the same record, reversed the lower court's decision, in a unanimous opinion. At a third trial--again before an all- white jury in 1936 Hollins was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 1950. It is now widely believed that he was innocent.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Hugo Adam Bedau and Michael L. Radelet, "Miscarriages of Justice in Potentially Capital Cases," Stanford Law Review 40 (November 1987). Roger W. Cummins, "'Lily-White' Juries on Trial: The Civil Rights Defense of Jess Hollins," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 63 (1985). Ex Parte Hollins, 14 P.2d 243, 244 (Okla. Crim. App., 1932). Paul Finkelman, "Not Only the Judges' Robes Were Black: African-American Lawyers as Social Engineers," Stanford Law Review 47 (November1994). Hollins v. State of Oklahoma, 38 P.2d 36, 40 (Okla. Crim. App., 1934). Hollins v. State of Oklahoma, 295 U.S. 394 (1935).
Alfred L. Brophy
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