The Story Of The Dawson Five: Arrested and Forced Into Murder Confession

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Gordon Howell, a cattle ranch worker, was shot to death at a one-room grocery store on January 22, 1976. Dawson, a rural community in southwest Georgia, was only six miles away from the store. According to testimony, Howell was shot by a group of young African-American men who arrived at the store that evening, all of whom wore ski masks and hid behind a beer cooler before drawing a weapon. Denton, the store owner, identified Roosevelt Watson, then 19, as the gunman.

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Henderson Jackson, 21, Watson’s brother; brothers Johnny B. Jackson, 17, and James Jackson, 16; and J.D. Davenport, 18, who was connected to Watson, were all detained. Before being known as “The Dawson Five,” the boys were five poor, young black guys from rural Terrell County who were eventually accused with robbery and first-degree murder. The prosecution claimed during a preliminary hearing that the boys had confessed to the accusations and that they would seek the death penalty.

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Millard Farmer of Atlanta, Georgia-based Team Defense Project Inc. defended the men. Farmer said that police threatened to kill, electrocute, and castrate the defendants in exchange for their alleged confessions. However, the prosecution’s case fell apart.

A former police captain testified in August 1977 that he was present when a fellow officer pushed his gun into one of the defendants’ forehead, cocked it, and commanded the young man to confess. By the last week of August 1977, the Dawson Five story had traveled across the country; one New York Times headline read, “A case of murder; an accusation of forced confessions.”

On December 17, 1977, the district attorney dropped the murder and robbery charges, stating that there was no case without the confessions. Two of the defendants had been in jail for a year at that point, while the other three had been in for over two years.



Written by How Africa News

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