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Hugh C. Lee

On September 15, 1923, 165 money orders and related supplies were stolen at gunpoint from postmaster Charles H. Fite in Polk County, Georgia. The robbery took place in the post office and was witnessed by 14-year-old Van Underwood. When the stolen money orders began being filled, police started investigating 35-year-old Hugh C. Lee, who had a history of passing false money orders and stolen checks.

Postmaster Fite could not identify Lee, but Van Underwood did identify Lee as the robber. Several other eyewitnesses identified Lee as a stranger they had seen in town around the time of the crime. Lee’s handwriting had only a few points of similarity to the forged orders. In November 1924, Lee was tried in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Since he could not afford counsel, attorney Barry Wright was appointed to represent him. Lee claimed that he was in Detroit, Michigan, at the time of the robbery, but he was unable to provide support to back up his alibi due to lack of funds and the lapse of a year. Lee was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. His motion for a new trial was dismissed.

In January 1925, Will Barrett (who looked very similar to Lee) was arrested in connection with passing forged checks, and Barrett confessed to the robbery for which Lee had been convicted. Barrett’s handwriting matched that on the forged orders and Postmaster Fite identified him as well. After Barrett was convicted, President Calvin Coolidge pardoned Lee on March 13, 1925.

– Meghan Barrett Cousino

State:GA - Federal
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1923
Sentence:5 years
Race/Ethnicity:Don't Know
Age at the date of crime:35
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID