Authors: Pete Dexter
Tags: #National Book Award winning novel 1988
I want you to think of the times you have seen
Mr. Trout on the street or perhaps spoken to him at his store. Ask
yourself if it seems possible that same man would drive out to Indian
Heights to shoot a girl he did not know.
Does it make sense, if that is what he
intended, to go out there in broad daylight? Do you believe Mr.
Trout, a substantial member of this community and the owner of
several businesses, would intentionally jeopardize his own life over
an eight-hundred-dollar debt?
Paris Trout did not need eight hundred dollars.
His concern was a principle, and the principle is what led him out to
Indian Heights. He went there as a reasonable man, to talk.
Now, the prosecution asks you to believe
something else. That Mr. Trout and Mr. Buster Devonne just walked
into that house and began to shoot colored people up. They say that
Mr. Devonne shot Mary McNutt in the back and the shoulder and the
side and the breast, while Paris Trout was shooting the girl. They
ask you to believe that the colored people themselves had no guns,
that the guns were all in the other side of the house.
Is that possible?" he said. Seagraves
stopped for a moment and seemed to think. "Yes. Is it likely?
No. Is there proof that's the way it happened, physical evidence? No.
All we have here is the words of the family against the words of
Paris Trout and Buster Devonne."
He paused for a moment.
"The real proof, of course, was right in this
courtroom yesterday. Not ten feet from where you're sitting. The
proof is inside Mary McNutt, the bullets she has never had removed.
If those bullets are anything but forty-fives, then somebody besides
Paris Trout was shooting at her in that house, and she is telling the
truth. But if those bullets are forty-fives, then they came from the
same gun that shot Rosie Sayers, and you are obliged to believe Paris
He had been walking up and down in front of the jury
as he spoke, hands in his pockets, but now he took them out and
leaned against the rail of the jury box. "We are that close to
the proof: and that far away. But if those bullets were inside Paris
Trout," he said, "you know he would of found a way to have
one of them removed and take the decision of who to believe off you
He looked at the jurors, but the train had left the
station. The foreman's face was two feet from his own, and there
wasn't'a sign he even understood the words. Seagraves knew to a
certainty it had slipped away. It surprised him, to see it was
already lost, and insulted him.
He pulled back off the rail, to keep the jury from
The law," he
said, "is reasonable doubt. And even if you did not know who
Paris Trout was, or that he had been doing honest business in Cotton
Point for as long as most of us can remember, even then, you could
not look at this case and make more than a guess at what happened.
There is no weight of evidence here, it is one story against another.
And what we are left with is a tragic death and doubts over how it
occurred. Reasonable doubts."
* * *
WARD TOWNES WAS EVEN shorter in his remarks.
Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I am
not as eloquent as Mr. Seagraves, but then I am not as expensive."
There was some polite laughter from around the room, and Seagraves
So I think what I will do now is borrow
something from Mr. Seagraves's own argument and remind you of his
words that the proof was right in the courtroom yesterday, in the
person of Mary McNutt.
I believe that too," he said, and pointed
at the empty witness chair.
She was sitting in that seat, and I think you
can weigh what she said. I think you heard Mr. Trout too, and
everyone else who was there when Rosie Sayers was killed. People who
were in their own house when Paris Trout and Buster Devonne came to
You have seen the
pictures of the girl after Mr. Trout and Mr. Devonne left. You have
seen the scars on Mary McNutt's body "There is no reasonable
doubt. You all understand what happened out there, and all I am
asking you to do now is acknowledge it. To say that it matters."
* * *
THE JURY WENT TO its deliberations at three-thirty.
Seagraves took Trout out of the courthouse. They crossed the street
and walked half a block to the Dixie Theater, and climbed the stairs.
Seagraves's office overlooked the street, and he stood in the window,
watching good Cotton Point people taking care of their business,
people he knew by name. He had not spoken to Trout since they left
Am I loose?" Trout said.
Seagraves did not turn around. "Not yet,"
How long does it take?"
It depends on what they're going to do."
They ain't going to do nothing," Trout
Seagraves did not answer.
"What can they do?" Trout said, a little
Isn't anybody safe, Paris," Seagraves
said. "Not all the way. You might keep that in mind next time."
"What can they do?" Trout said again.
Seagraves shrugged. "It's a jury, they can do
what they want."
Trout laughed, that barking sound. "I think you
forgot where you are," he said.
Seagraves turned away from the window. "Maybe,"
Trout slammed his hand against the desk. "I paid
you to look after this," he said. "I want more back than
You should of come hired me sooner,"
Seagraves said, feeling the anger returning. "You should of
called me up before you and Buster Devonne went over there to shoot
that child and Mary McNutt. You should of called and asked my advice
then, and I would of given you advice that it was murder."
That boy owed me money," Trout said. "You
ought to explained that better.? He had moved halfway across the
desk, and his face was so close Seagraves could see the thin red
lines in his eyes.
There's some things," Seagraves said,
thinking of himself; "that business isn't an excuse."
Trout stayed where he was, leaning across the desk.
"You think I don't know what a lawyer is?" he said.
It was quiet a long time, and Trout slowly sat back
into his chair. His mood seemed to change, and he turned thoughtful.
"Say they come back and find me guilty," he said. "What's
Seagraves shrugged. "Depends on you," he
said. "File motions for a new trial. Allowing the pictures was a
judicial error . . ."
Then we go through appeals until we get a new
trial or run out of courts."
"How long is something like that take?"
Depends. A year or two . . . sometimes longer."
He turned in his seat and looked back out the window. "It's
expensive," he said.
It's already expensive," Trout said.
Yes, it is."
* * *
THE JURY WAS out a little over three hours. Seagraves
had left Trout in his office, looking at a National Geographic, and
was down the hall with a young lawyer named Walter Huff when his
secretary knocked on the door and said they'd called from court.
Walter Huff s family owned the Ether Hotel, where
Trout was living, and he had just told Seagraves that the maids were
afraid to clean the room. "He's supposed to said he's got poison
up there," the young lawyer was saying, "and there's guns
"You allow him up there like that?"
The young lawyer smiled. "He pays his rent."
Seagraves thought of that on the way back to court.
It seemed to him that the young man had good judgment for an attorney
fresh out of school. And then his thoughts turned to the Bonner boy,
who had graduated Tufts Law School that spring and would be opening
his own law practice in the fall, and Seagraves wondered what the
schooling had done to him.
Most of them came out thinking they knew something.
Seagraves and Trout walked through the courtroom's
main entrance. Ward Townes was already sitting at the prosecution
table, the spectator seats were close to empty. People had gone home.
The room had a hollow sound without spectators. Whispers carried,
words spoken out loud seemed to hang in the air.
Judge Taylor came in buttoning his robe. There was
grease on his chin, and he was sweating. When he settled, he checked
the papers on the desk in front of him and then instructed the court
officer to bring in the jury. Trout stared at them as they filed into
their seats. Seagraves could see a pulse in his forehead. Only two of
them glanced back, the foreman and a woman from Homewood.
The judge asked the foreman if the jury had reached a
verdict. The air in the room smelled a hundred years old. "Yessir,"
Trout slowly stood up, his eyes still fixed on the
The foreman did not see him rise, he stared at the
paper in his hands. "We find the defendant guilty of
second-degree murder,' " he read.
Then he looked up and found Paris Trout staring at
him. A look passed over the foreman's face, and when it was gone, so
was his color. Seagraves stood up too. "We request a poll of the
jury," he said.
One by one the jurors stood and pronounced the same
verdict. Only one — the woman he recognized from Homewood — dared
to look Trout in the eye. Seagraves wondered if she cared anymore who
it was that had got her city water.
Mr. Trout," the judge said when the last
juror had spoken, "you have been found guilty of second-degree
murder in the death of Rosie Sayers. Do you have anything further to
say at this time?"
Trout turned his look on the judge but did not
"We have no further remarks," Seagraves
In that case, gentlemen, it is the finding of
this court that you are guilty of the crime prescribed in the true
bill filed by the people July twenty-first of this year — namely,
second-degree murder. Further, it is the decision of this court that
you be incarcerated in the state work camp in Petersboro County for a
period of not less than one nor more than three years."
He leaned forward then, folding his hands, and spoke
It is this court's fervent hope that you will
return to the community at the soonest possible time," he said,
"and resume your place among its business leaders."
Judge Taylor looked at Seagraves then in an
"Your Honor," Seagraves said, "in
light of Mr. Trout's established business, civic, and family ties to
the community, we ask that he be allowed to remain free on his own
recognizance until new trial motions are settled."
"The people have no objection to that, Your
Honor," Townes said.
Judge Taylor thanked the jury and excused them. Trout
stared until the last juror was out the door. Then he stared at their
Mr. Trout," the judge said, "you are
free pending your appeal. You may not leave the county or change
residences without notifying this court of your intention to do so.
You are not to have contact with any of the witnesses or jurors
involved in this trial. Do you understand the conditions of your
"We understand, Your Honor," Seagraves
said. But there was no sign that Trout understood at all.
They walked out of the courthouse together and then
stood for a moment in front of the town monument where, if you
believed the monument, the state seal of Georgia had been hidden in a
privy when General Sherman came through at the end of the war.
Cotton Point had been a rich place then, the center
of the state's agriculture and law. At that time "Gone to Cotton
Point" did not refer to the asylum.
Trout took a pack of cigarettes out of his pants
pocket and looked back at the courthouse as he smoked.
I'll let you know where we stand,"
You said the judge made an error."
I believe he did."
Trout turned quiet, and Seagraves started to leave.
He wanted to walk. "I'll be by the hotel later, when I got some
idea where we are."
Leave word," Trout said. "Don't come
up on me unexpected."
A farmer passed them in his pickup, the back end
loaded with coon dogs, baying at the sky. There was nothing to chase
and tree, so the noise itself had become the purpose.
How long does it take to figure this out?"
Seagraves shook his head. "You work it out,"
he said. "You get an accommodation. There's no figuring, not the
way you mean it."
Is it more money?"
Seagraves blew all the air out of his chest. He
wanted to move to a different place, to walk. He could still hear the
dogs, fainter now, like a memory. "You missed the point, Paris."
"If a man stole from me tomorrow," Trout
said, "I'd do the same thing again."