Tully Walker’s Last Trial
Fiction by Jim Hornsby
I wasn’t there for Tully Walker’s last trial. I had a case over in McMinn County and was gone most of the day. All I know about it is what I read in the transcript later on. But I’m sure the transcript is correct. Yula May Johnson was the court reporter for that session, and if Yula May says that’s what they said, you can bet that’s what they said. And most of what they said doesn’t surprise me at all.
Joe Davis didn’t say much of anything. Joe is Tully’s second cousin on his mama’s side and the only reason he agreed to represent Tully was to keep peace in the family. But Joe wasn’t a bit happy about defending another one of Tully’s moonshining charges. This one appeared to be an open-and-shut case, and Judge Wright had warned Tully last time that he better change his ways because he was through letting him off with fines and warnings.
So it isn’t surprising that the state’s attorney, Oliver Green, did most of the talking that day. He was smug through his opening remarks and fairly gloated when he had Sheriff Taylor on the stand testifying as to how he and his deputies found that still on the back side of Tully Walker’s property and laid it to waste with axes and dynamite.
No, none of that surprises me at all. What does surprise me is that Joe was able to get Tully off. Yep. Got him off Scot-free. Some will say it was just luck, a legal technicality, but I call it good lawyerin’. If you’ve got a minute, I’ll tell you how it happened.
The state’s star witness was not available to testify. That witness is named Napoleon, and he is a pure bred German Sheppard, especially trained in Nashville to detect a number of illegal substances, including sour-mash whisky. Sheriff Taylor testified as to the dog’s training and his training with the dog and went on to say… Well, rather than try to explain all this, maybe I should just read it the way Yula May took it down. I’ll start where Sheriff Taylor is testifying about getting the search warrant:
WITNESS: After we received complaints from neighbors about sour-mash odors coming from Mr. Walker’s property, we took Napoleon out to Mr. Walker’s property line. The dog began to bark and strain at the leash wanting to go onto Mr. Walker’s property, so I knew old Napoleon was thinking, “There is sour mash whisky on Tully Walker’s land and I can’t wait to take you to it.”
(There was considerable laughter in the courtroom at this point and Judge Wright gaveled the court back to order.)
PROSCECUTION: And that was your basis for obtaining a warrant to search Mr. Walker’s property?
WITNESS: Yes sir.
DEFENSE: Objection, your Honor, as to what the dog was thinking.
JUDGE: What the dog was thinking?
DEFENSE: Yes sir. The sheriff testified as to what the dog was thinking, and I don’t believe he is qualified to do that.
PROSCECUTION: Your honor, the witness has testified that Napoleon is well qualified to detect illegal substances.
DEFENSE: If it please the court, I’m not questioning the dog’s training, his reliability, or his pedigree. I am only saying that the sheriff can’t testify as to what he was thinking.
PROSECUTION: Sheriff Taylor has qualified as an expert in handling dogs. He has worked extensively with Napoleon and is very familiar with his actions when illegal substances are detected.
DEFENSE: Be that as it may, he has not been qualified as a swami. Maybe the dog’s mind was on his work or maybe he was thinking about that cute little poodle that lives down the street. We just don’t know. The law says mind reading is not proper evidence, and if that was the basis for the search warrant, then the warrant was not properly obtained.
PROSECUTION: Your Honor, I will withdraw my previous question and rephrase.
JUDGE: Please do.
PROSECUTION: Sheriff Taylor, what was your justification for seeking a search warrant for the Defendant’s property?
WITNESS: Our trained dog gave signs that I knew from my training were indications of there being an illegal substance or substances on Mr. Walker’s property.
DEFENSE: Objection, your Honor, to the witness changing his testimony.
PROSECUTION: He is not changing his testimony, he is merely clarifying it.
DEFENSE: Sounds to me like he’s changing it. We can have Ms. Johnson read back his previous answer if your honor cares to hear it.
JUDGE: That won’t be necessary. Gentlemen, I am going to take a short recess and think this over. While we are recessed, I hope the parties will consider a compromise that will resolve this matter.
PROSECUTION: Your Honor, the state only seeks to have justice served.
JUDGE: As do we all, Mr. Green. But justice is a concept that must be achieved within the framework of the law. Mr. Davis has a point that the state would be wise to consider. We are recessed for one hour.
That’s where the transcript ends. Joe told me later that he and Oliver entered an agreed order whereby the state dropped the charges and Tully promised to stop making whisky. Tully grumbled about it, but admitted that he was getting too old to keep rebuilding his still, and to my knowledge he gave it up.
So Tully quit moonshining, the neighbors were no longer bothered by sour-mash odors, and the sheriff got a lesson in testifying that will serve him well in the future. Was justice served? Well justice, like beauty, is mostly in the eye of the beholder, so I’ll let you be the judge of that.