Normally in a murder trial, the “sympathy vote” is with the family of the victim and therefore, in favor of the prosecution. In this case, the accused murderer—the handsome, kind, and caring young doctor, whose marriage to a brazen city girl had been torn apart by a man who was little more than a hoodlum—gained the sympathy of the courtroom. Adding to the doctor’s appeal were those two darling little girls, abandoned by their hussy of a mother, loyally attending the trial day after day.
Attorney B. M. Robinson opened his defense of Dr. Van Sandt by stating that he would prove that Jackson was the aggressor in the fight that resulted in Jackson’s wounds and ultimate death. He stated that a witness would testify that Jackson was the first to pull a gun, but Van Sandt was the first to get shots off. He noted that the defense witnesses would testify to Grover threatening James with death twelve times.
He compared the careers of Jackson, which featured violence and clashes with the law, with Van Sandt’s pursuit of education and stellar work as one of Carbon’s physicians. He would show that Grover was drinking and driving fast and erratically on his way to Carbon the afternoon he was shot.
Because the witnesses for both sides had different recollections about where the shooting occurred, the defense called as its first witness a professional photographer who had photographed the scene shortly after the confrontation.
The next defense witness was Earl Thomas, a soldier from Atlanta who had ridden with Grover and others from Brazil to Carbon on the day of the shooting. Earl testified that Grover had three glasses of whiskey before he got behind the wheel and drove to Carbon at a high rate of speed. On the drive, Earl said, Grover nearly hit a pedestrian and ran over and killed four chickens without slowing down.
Earl testified that Grover joined him and some other men in Cumming’s pool hall on the day of the shooting. When one man asked Grover if he wanted to come to Terre Haute with him the next day to join the army, Grover told him that he would go with him to the army but before he went, he would have to “get him,” meaning Van Sandt, using vile language when referring to the physician. The defense called several other witnesses who generally corroborated Earl’s testimony. None would say that Grover was drunk.
In all, the defense called twelve character witnesses as well as other witnesses who described threats Grover had levied against the doctor. Additional witnesses described the events that transpired immediately before the shooting. None of these accounts completely jibed with one another or with the accounts told by the prosecution’s witnesses. A key factor causing some of the accounts to vary was where the witness was standing when the events occurred.
Next week’s concluding chapter reveals the jury’s verdict.