On February 22, 1900, Nash R. Broyles, the City Recorder in Atlanta, Georgia, received an obscene and angry letter containing threats against his life. The letter was signed with the name “Grant Jackson.” The Atlanta police were familiar with a black man named Grant Jackson, who had been in trouble with the law in the past, so they immediately arrested him in connection with the letter. After determining that Jackson was not able to write, police arrested Jackson’s friend, William Broughton, whose writing they found to be very similar to that in the threatening letter.
The only evidence against Broughton was the testimony of several handwriting experts. Their testimony was enough to convince the jury that Broughton was the person who had written the letter to Broyles. In March 1900, Jackson was convicted by the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Georgia of sending an obscene letter through the mail and sentenced to five years in prison.
In April of the same year, Recorder Broyles received a letter from a man in Birmingham, Alabama named Charley Mitchell. In this letter, Mitchell wrote that he had recently left Atlanta and had information to offer Broyles about a woman who had assisted Broughton in writing the threatening letter. However, Broyles realized that Mitchell’s handwriting was in every way identical to that of the writer of the original threatening letter. Broyles invited Mitchell to his office, and Mitchell was arrested upon his arrival. Mitchell’s companion in Birmingham admitted that he had witnessed Mitchell writing the threatening letter, and police gathered other evidence that they said showed Mitchell was the person who had penned the original letter.
Charley Mitchell was convicted of writing the threatening letter and sentenced to five years in prison and a $100 fine. At Mitchell’s trial, Recorder Broyles was the only “handwriting expert” who testified. Following Mitchell’s conviction, President McKinley pardoned William Broughton on May 19, 1900.
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.