Thursday, October 19, 2023

Donald Watkins knows what it's like to get death threats because of a high-profile legal case, but most recent threat, from a university president, is a stunner

Jimmy Ray Hurst

In a legal career of 40-plus years, Alabama attorney Donald Watkins has been in several high-profile cases that caused death threats to come in his direction. Watkins now is receiving a threat of payback for a series of hard-hitting reports as an online journalist about scandals on a university campus. This time, the threat is coming from, of all people, a university president.

In comments at his Facebook page, Watkins provides an introduction to death threats related to legal cases. He writes:

The Jimmy Ray Hurst murder case subjected me to the second highest number of death threats in my legal career. Obtaining the 1976 pardon for "Scottsboro Boy" Clarence Norris subjected me to the highest number of death threats. In the end, justice was served in both cases.

Whether I was prosecuting high-profile cases or defending them during my legal career, I always got serious and credible death threats. For some reason, my cases tended to upset a lot of Whites in the state of Alabama. They wanted to inflict violence upon me, inside and outside of the courtroom. This is why it was such a relief when I finally got to the stage of my career where they just called me a "nigger lawyer," or criticized me for winning my cases, or otherwise hated on me with words only. At least I was out of the zone of physical danger at that point. That milestone was such a relief for me and my family. 

In the Norris case, the defendant was one of nine Black Scottsboro boys charged with raping two white women on a train. Norris was convicted by an all-White jury and sentenced to death. The case wound through various courts, with Watkins ultimately winning a pardon for Norris from Gov. George Wallace. 

Watkins probably never expected to see threats coming from someone like Daniel K. Wims, the president of Alabama A&M University. You might think an academician would be above such behavior. But Watkins reports that Wims is seeking payback for a series of hard-hitting posts, on the website, about scandals that have erupted on the A&M campus.

On his Facebook page, Watkins said Wims made a serious miscalculation by seeking some form of retribution against Watkins -- and the idea of a free press:

This misguided move was a huge mistake on Dr. Wims' part. Now, Wims has dragged Alabama A&M University into a full-scale Richard Nixon "Watergate" type of blunder and coverup, complete with an attack on investigative journalism. Dr. Wims is the problem. He is not a solution to the problem. The only question is this: How many Alabama A&M trustees and staff members Wims will drag down with him? At this juncture, Dr. Wims constitutes a clear and present danger to Alabama A&M University. He needs to resign, immediately.

    Birmingham-Southern College sued the state Treasurer yesterday after he denied BSC the $30-million loan the college had applied for. Since September 18, 2023, Alabama A&M has had a letter from the federal government confirming that the state of Alabama owes the university $527 million. Yet, Alabama A&M has taken no court action to collect its money. President Daniel Wims, a closet MAGA Republican, does not want to upset Gov. Kay Ivey by asking the governor for Alabama A&M's $527 million. Instead, Wims spends his time trying to find somebody who will try to shut down my investigative journalism. Dr. Wims has no "balls."
    In a post today at his Web site, Watkins provides an introduction to the kinds of threats that can come with participation in the legal process. In this instance, it was a police-murder case that caused emotions to run out of control. Under the headline "State of Alabama v. Jimmy Ray Hurst," Watkins writes:
    On June 4, 1973, Jimmy Ray Hurst, a Lieutenant in the Talladega, Alabama, Police Department, asked Beatrice L. Patterson to lure Charles “Cooter” Mann to a spot on a remote fire lane in a dense forest about five miles from the city limits of Talladega. Patterson was Hurst’s 30-year-old lover. She dated Hurst, a married man, and Cooter Mann, a divorced man, at the same time. She freely admitted to having sexual intercourse with both men, along with numerous other men.
    Beatrice Patterson and Hurst’s wife, Jimmie Faye Hurst, worked together as waitresses at a private club known as Point Aquarius, located on Logan Martin Lake. They were close friends. Hurst’s wife was also dating Cooter Mann and they frequently met at Patterson's home.
    Cooter Mann made the fatal mistake of bragging about his sexual liaisons with Hurst's wife. Gossip about the affair became rampant in and around Talladega. When Hurst learned of his wife's infidelity, he decided to avenge his wounded ego and his wife's tarnished name.

    On June 4th, Lt. Hurst told Beatrice Patterson that he had heard that Mann was having a love affair with his wife; that Mann was telling everyone about the affair; and that Mann was laughing about it. Hurst wanted to know the truth about it. He told Patterson that he wanted to talk to Mann and let him convince Hurst that he had not been going with his wife or make him tell what he had been telling everybody else in town. Hurst further said that he wanted the little “f----r” to stop laughing at him like he had been laughing at everybody else in town. 

    Hurst asked Patterson to drive to the Eleventh Frame Night Club and bring Mann to him. He told Patterson to bring Mann to the secluded spot where she had experienced many trysts with both Hurst and Mann. Patterson had no idea that she was about to serve as a decoy in an ambush murder case. As such, she agreed to bring Mann to Hurst in the deep forest.

    The scenario became more complicated from there, Watkins writes:

    Patterson went to the nightclub in Talladega and found Mann. She did not get to have a conversation with him at that time as another one of her other lovers was present and was insisting that he spend the night with her. She told this lover that he could not stay with her that night and left the club. She went home and called Mann on the telephone and asked him to meet her below the Talladega Motel. She drove to the appointed place and Mann arrived in five minutes in his blue pickup truck. She told him to follow her and he did. She drove to the place pre-arranged with Hurst. 

    As Patterson was driving on this dirt road, her headlights picked up Hurst's white Cadillac parked in a secluded place off the main dirt road with the lights off. She immediately braked her automobile and stopped just past the Cadillac with her lights on bright. She did not see Hurst. Just as her car came to a stop, she heard Cooter Mann change gears and start backing up rapidly. Then she heard Hurst cry out, "Stop you f----r, stop." Immediately she heard three shotgun blasts in rapid succession and then two more. 

    Patterson got out of her car and started running back to the truck to see about the man she unwittingly led into a trap. As she got near the hood of the truck, Hurst walked around the truck and intercepted her. He told her to get in her car and get the hell out from there. She told him she wanted to see Mann and Hurst said, "You can't, I've shot his damned face off." She saw the shotgun in Hurst’s hand.

    Hurst told Patterson to go home and keep her mouth shut; that if she told anyone. both of them would get 50 years. Patterson maintained her silence for several long and difficult days. Cooter Mann’s body was found on June 8, 1973 by Jimmy Roberts, a service station operator, and Jerry Gaither, another one of Patterson’s lovers. The body was in an advanced state of decomposition and the head and face were so mutilated as to be unrecognizable. He had been shot multiple times with a shotgun at close range. Mann’s death was instantaneous.

    A warrant was issued for the arrest of Lt. Jimmy Ray Hurst charging him with murder in the first degree. Hurst was on duty that night and the Chief of Police was notified that the Sheriff was ready to execute the warrant. The Chief brought Hurst to the Sheriff's office. The Sheriff then put him in jail.

    In the aftermath of the murder of a private citizen by a police lieutenant in the Talladega Police Department, it became evident that the Mayor, Police Chief, and other officers in the Police Department, particularly officer Getral Smith (who knew that Hurst had killed Mann), were engaging in a small-scale "Watergate Coverup". As a result, the Mayor resigned, the Chief of Police was forced out of office, and Smith was suspended and subsequently indicted as an accessory after the fact.

    The Police Chief and Lieutenant Tyler Wood, who was a close friend of Hurst and one of the first investigating officers, did not testify in the case. The Mayor and Getral Smith were summoned as witnesses for the defense. The Mayor was sworn and took the witness stand. He immediately invoked the Fifth Amendment and declined to testify on the ground that his testimony might tend to incriminate him.

    Smith waived his privilege against self-incrimination and testified in behalf of Hurst. Lt. Jimmy Ray Hurst was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life imprisonment. He appealed his conviction and lost. 

    This is when I got to know Jimmy Ray Hurst. I was the Special Assistant Attorney General for the State of Alabama who protected the “guilty” verdict during Jimmy Hurst’s appeal of his murder conviction. Attorney General Bill Baxley appointed me to represent the State of Alabama in one of the most high-profile murder cases of its time.

    On November 12, 1974, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld this cold-bloodied murderer’s conviction in Hurst v. State. With that, Hurst's fate was sealed. He was imprisoned for Cooter Mann's murder.

    As fate would have it, I graduated from law school three weeks before Jimmy Ray Hurst murdered Charles “Cooter” Mann. Yet, Hurst’s shocking case was my introduction to the ugly underbelly of police murders and law-enforcement cover-ups. Fortunately, it was also my introduction to courageous sheriffs and prosecutors who were committed to seeking criminal justice under the most difficult of circumstances in that era.

    Jimmy Ray Hurst remains in prison to this day. He is 90 years old. He was denied parole in June 2020. He will die in prison.

    This was the first and only time a Black special prosecutor handled a police-murder case in Alabama where all of the parties, witnesses, and public officials involved in the case were White. My work came with plenty of death threats. In the end, justice was served. For this, I am proud.

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