News sources, web sites, and casual commentary routinely repeat the misstatement that Williams was “cleared of all charges” or found to be “innocent” by his Augusta jury. Nothing could be further from the truth. If James Williams had been cleared of all charges, he would never have been tried.
Juries don’t clear people of charges. People are cleared of charges when, for example, it turns out they were in Casablanca when the crime was committed. “Cleared” indicates a judgment that a person did not, as a matter of irrefutable fact, commit the acts alleged, yet it has continued to be erroneously suggested that a jury found Williams “innocent” of the murder of Danny Hansford. That contention confuses legal responsibility with factual responsibility.
It is no small thing that a jury verdict acquitting a defendant is termed “not guilty” rather than “innocent.” There is a significant difference. It can help to insert the word “proved” into the phrase: not proved guilty. “Innocent” is not a choice on a jury verdict form.
From the analysis of the third Williams murder trial:
On a related note, Williams’s mother attended this trial, whereas Danny Hansford’s mother was not allowed to be present in the courtroom. Williams’s lawyers placed Danny’s mother under subpoena for the sole purpose of keeping her out of the courtroom, where she might present a sympathetic image. Witnesses are routinely sequestered to prevent one witness from hearing the testimony of the others. In this case, Williams’s lawyers invoked the rule against Danny’s mother, for another transparent reason: They didn’t want to remind the jury that the pit bull had a mother. They never called her as a witness. It’s a common ploy and a clear abuse of the sequestration rule.
If I had been presiding, I would have asked counsel for a commitment on the record as to their intention to call Hansford’s mother, the basis for her testimony, and an anticipated time frame for her testimony. Absent satisfactory answers to those questions, I would have told her to come in and have a seat. She had a right to hear the trial of the man accused of killing her son.
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The Midnight phenomenon is not the first example of the City of Savannah becoming caught up in popular-culture mania. Portions of Forrest Gump were also shot in and around the city. Forrest (also known as Tom Hanks) sat on a bench eating his box of chocolates at the southernmost entrance to Wright Square.
Savannah’s pride at having been the site of this historic chocolate-munching moment grew to the point that some thought it would be a wonderful idea to build a statue of Forrest eating his box of chocolates on the “historic” site where it took place. Once it was pointed out that Forrest was not a real person, the movement lost steam.
Perhaps, instead, the city should have commissioned a statue of Danny Hansford, who ended up sparking an influx of tourist dollars into Savannah unparalleled in the city’s history. He did far more for Savannah’s tourist trade by being shot dead by Williams than Forrest Gump ever did by eating a box of Whitman’s.