[Summation of Judson Harmon, attorney for Sheriff Shipp before the Supreme Court in Washington(3/3/1909):]
The testimony shows that Sheriff Shipp did not conspire, aid, or abet the lynchers and did not fail in his duty to take proper precautions to guard him.
It is alleged that the prisoner had been heavily guarded until the night of the lynching and that the guards were purposely withdrawn in order to permit the lynching. The record shows that the jail had not been guarded with extra guards after Johnson's conviction on February 9.
The government seems to bring a wholesale irfdictment against the whole citizenship of Chattanooga and Hamilton County. The undisputed testimony of dozens of witnesses is swept aside by the simple announcement that it is absurd and ridiculous. The testimony of gray-haired ministers, of veteran physicians, of merchants, manufacturers, and officials, is all treated in the same manner. To all of these, counsel for the government say:
"It is absurd for the defendants and their witnesses to say that the community was in a state of peaceful repose on March 19 or preceding days. It is idle for them to say that they did not apprehend mob violence to Johnson."
Judge McReynolds and Attorney General Whitaker are also severely criticized by counsel for the government. Just why, it is hard to understand. These gentlemen first sounded the alarm on the night of the lynching. Walking the streets about nine o'clock and noticing a suspicious gathering at the jail, they went to the office of the Chattanooga Times and notified the editor and reporters of what was going on-called the sheriff and requested him to go to the relief of the prisoner phoned to the office of the chief of police-and, in fact, did everything that could have reasonably been expected of any citizen under the circumstances.
After Johnson was lynched, Judge McReynolds delivered a strong charge to the grand jury, instructing that body to indict all those en aged in the lynching. Both he and Attorney General Whitaker did everything possible to procure indictments. That the grand jury failed to indict any of the lynchers is not strange in view of the difficulty that the government, with all of its agents and detectives, have had in establishing the identity of those engaged in the lynching. These splendid officials need no defense at our hands.
It is possible that Captain Shipp acted with poor judgment on the night of the lynching. It is easy to see now that he should have had the jail guarded and should have been prepared for a mob. But if he had done so, he would have been wiser and would have shown more foresight than any other citizen of Chattanooga.
It is easy to see now, looking back over events as they occurred on that night, that Captain Shipp, instead of going to the jail, should have gone to police headquarters or the Armory, where the militia were drilling, and organized a posse.
It must be remembered, however, that Captain Shipp did not have time to carefully consider the situation and coolly decide the best course to ursue. He was called up in the night and told by the prosecuting attorney that he should go at once to the jail.
Certainly Captain Shipp cannot be convicted for contempt of this Court simply because, in the performance of his duties, he exercised bad judgment. He says himself that if he had the thing to do over again he, perhaps, would know better what to do, and would act differently, but at that time he acted on the spur of the moment and had gone to the jail for the purpose of seeing what the trouble was and to do what he could to protect the prisoner.
Captain Shipp denied, in his testimony, all the charges in the information with reference to a conspiracy with those engaged in the lynching.
He denied any intention to aid or abet, in any way, those engaged in the killing of Johnson. He denied that he anticipated or had any reason to anticipate or expect a mob on the night of March 19.
He insisted that he had the very greatest respect for this honorable Court and had done no act, and omitted no duty, from which a contrary conclusion could be drawn.
Captain Shipp has lived in Chattanooga since 1874. He was a Confederate soldier, and has, for many years, been a member of the Confederate Veterans' organization, and is quartermaster general of the entire organization. He was on the staff of the late General John B. Gordon and the late General Stephen D. Lee. He has been a Mason for over forty years and a member of numerous other secret societies.
His splendid character is testified to by every witness whose testimony has been referred to in this brief. Old men and young men, political friends and political adversaries, ministers of all denominations, veterans of the Civil War who wore the blue and who wore the gray, men of all classes and all persuasions who have known Captain Shipp during his long life in Chattanooga, all, in one voice, say to this Court that he is a truthful, law-abiding, honorable gentleman.
Can this Court say that a man with such a character and such a record would suddenly, without any motive whatever, betray his trust, sacrifice the life of a prisoner in his keeping, become a perjurer and a murderer, in order to show his contempt and disregard for the orders of this, the highest and greatest court in the world?