The hearing kicked off on Wednesday at about 10:15am. That’s the courthouse above. Poplarville, Mississippi is the county seat of Pearl River County, and the home of the district court serving Pearl River and the surrounding counties. It’s also apparently “the blueberry capital of Mississippi.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any blueberries for sale.
The courthouse itself was dedicated in 1918 — a World War I and confederate veterans memorial sits out front. It’s a nice building for its age. The walls, floors, and stairs are marble, and the offices inside have opaque windows with retro stenciling.
The courtroom was…well…rather courtroom-ish. The bench, gallery, and paneling were made of a light wood — oak, I’d guess. The seats provided for the attorneys were maroon pinned leather. There were large windows on either side, covered in wood-ish horizontal blinds.
In To Kill a Mockinbird fashion, there was a gallery extending along the from the back along to the left side of the courtroom (from the observer’s perspective). There was no one in the gallery, but the seats on the floor were about 3/4 full the first day, and about 1/4 full on the second.
The first day, Cory’s mother Dorothy Funchess had talked to her pastor and rounded up a large contingent from the church to come out in support of Cory. By my count, 47 black folks in Sunday attire made the trip. Among those I recognized: Funchess, Cory’s aunt, Cory’s father Robert Brown, Cory Jr., Cory’s brother, his uncle, his pastor, and Michelle Longino, Tacorriana’s grandmother. Funchess brought dress shirts, slacks, and ties for Cory to wear, though his attorneys decided to keep him in the prison attire.
Ron Jones’ family and friends, and about a half-dozen large, buzz-cutted police officers — someone told me they were Mississippi Highway Patrol — sat on the prosecution side of the aisle. There were, obviously, others present I didn’t recognize.
Cory was guarded by a team from the Jefferson Davis County Sheriff’s Department, which as I’ve noted in the Reason article, is mostly black, as is the sheriff, Henry McCullum. The courtroom itself was protected by officers from the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department. They were mostly old-timers, quite friendly and gregarious. They were also pretty casual. The bailif wore a collared shirt tucked into a pair of blue jeans with his badge and gun.
Jerry Mitchell of Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger was there, as was a reporter and camera from the NBC affiliate in Hattiesburg. Bob Evans’ wife and three of his kids sat just to my right.
There were some accoustic problems at first. But they managed to turn up the microphones after lunch on Wednesday. The place was well air conditioned — one of just a few missing pieces to keep the two days from unfolding like some classic southern courtroom drama. I don’t know, I guess I sorta’ want some perspiration and fan-flicking in my southern courtroom scenes.
The prosecution was seated to the observer’s left, the defense to the right.
Cory was kept in the jury room, just to the right and rear of the bench. He sat at the far end of a long table, guarded by 5-6 sheriff’s deputies. About ten minutes before the hearing, they brought him out in his prison-issue bright red jumper, white socks, and thin, brown, thong sandals. He was smiling, of course. But nervously.