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sentenced to death for stealing $1.95
On July 29, 1957, James "Jimmy" Wilson, a black handyman, was arrested for stealing $1.95 from Estelle Barker, an 82-year-old white woman Wilson had previously done work for, in Marion, Alabama. According to Barker, Wilson had forced his way into her house on the evening of June 27, made her empty her purse on her bed, and had tried to rape her before running out of the house with a handful of change.
An all-white jury convicted Wilson of robbery. Under the laws in effect at the time, robbery was considered a capital crime, and Wilson was sentenced to death by electrocution. The case was appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, which on June 12, 1958 upheld the death sentence. In its opinion, the Court stressed that the conviction was due to the violent nature of the robbery, and that "the amount of the money ... taken is immaterial."
The case received international coverage, with critical articles appearing in newspapers all across the world. Protest groups were formed and petitions were sent demanding that the death sentence be overturned. Governor James E. Folsom yielded to the protests on September 29, 1958, and commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Wilson was paroled on October 1, 1973, after having served 16 years in prison.
James Wilson is taken from the
capitol after a clemency hearing before Governor Folsom.
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This page was last updated on July 29, 2017.