Case Closed

By Ralph E. Gordon[1]

All rise, commanded Constable W.L. Country Williams. Chatter immediately turned to silence as the constable announced, Justice Court for Newton County, Mississippi is now in session , Honorable Tom Bates presiding.

Upon making his grand entry the judge took his usual seat at the checker board table in Lee Herringtons Grocery in down-town Little Rock. Judge Bates ceremoniously removed the checkers from the improvised judges bench and placed them in the cigar box provided by Mr. Lee. Before commencing with court business, the judge declared there would be no smoking, spitting or cussing in the courtroom. The judge also ordered that the only firearms allowed in the court-room would be the Constables and Sheriffs.

After receiving the usual guilty pleas for minor traffic offenses, public drunkenness and one dog theft, Judge Bates called up the case against a local lady affectionately known as Miss Chicken, charged with making moonshine whiskey.

How do you plead, Miss Chicken, inquired the judge?

Not guilty, your honor, was her reply, at which time her attorney asked for a trial by jury. Six reluctant men were chosen from the courtroom and nearby feed mill and the trial immediately began.

Eager to present his air-tight case against the alleged boot-legging lady, a feisty young county attorney sprang to his feet. Following his eloquent opening statement to the jury, the prosecutor called his witnesses, the Newton County Sheriff, then a State Alcohol and Beverage Control Agent. Both witnesses being well prepared testified flawlessly, leaving nothing for the well-seasoned defense attorney to exploit. At the proper moment the prosecutor presented his evidence that would surely put Miss Chicken out of business for good, a half pint fruit jar of the alleged moonshine, better known as Mississippi Stump Water.

Resting his case, the young and confident county attorney yielded the floor to the defense attorney. As the prosecutor watched in blissful confidence, the seasoned defense attorney removed the lid form the States air-tight case. Each of the six jurors, none of whom were very excited about the prospect of putting Miss Chicken out of business and quite nervous as well, were allowed to get a whiff of the foul smelling liquid. The sheriff and prosecutor were certain this charade would back-fire and seal the fate of Miss Chicken once and for all.

After passing the jar to the judge for his nasal inspection, the judge handed the jar to the defendant, and asked her if this was her shine. To the amazement of the entire crowd Miss Chicken turned the jar up and consumed its entire contents. After a loud burp the moonshining lady looked at each juror and proclaimed, This ain’t my shine. I ain’t never made nothing that tasted this bad and everyone of y’all know it!

No one in the court disputed Miss Chickens claim.

Again the young prosecutor sprang to his feet, this time in protest, but the judge was quick to point out that in his earlier ruling on courtroom etiquette that he made no mention against drinking in the courtroom. After restoring order, the judge made a brief inspection of the empty fruit jar, screwed the lid back on securely and declared, much the delight of the jurors, Case dismissed for lack of evidence. Case closed, air tight!

The young prosecutor, humiliated but not defeated, gathered his briefcase and papers and returned to his office in Decatur. That young mans name was Rex Gordon, Sr. Rex later built one Mississippi’s most successful and respected law practices. He was also elected as Chancery Judge for Jackson County, Mississippi and was mentor to many young attorneys, one of who, Trent Lott, was later elected to the United States Senate. Rex kind heart was reflected in his life as well as his memoirs, which is where I got the information for this story. I consider it a great privilege for his wife to think enough of me to allow me to tell his story. Every Gordon I know, including myself, is proud to claim kin to Rex Gordon.


[1] Appeared previously in the Oxford So and So. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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