Thursday, September 22, 2011

Questionable verdict reminds some of Ga.'s flawed judicial past

Atlanta Civil Rights Attorney, Donald L. Hollowell 1917-2004

Troy Davis is a name that many will never forget. Convicted in 1989 for killing a Chatham county police officer, Davis was sentenced to death by lethal injection. After 20 years of proceedings, appeals, and denials, Davis was scheduled to be executed on September 21, 2011. The state, nation, and world waited on pins and needles as the U.S. Supreme Court halted the execution for one more appeal; although eventually, it was denied.

But this is not the first time Georgia has made headlines for questionable judicial rulings. Davis’s story is quite similar to Preston Cobb. Preston, a native of Monticello, GA, was accused and convicted in 1961 of killing Frank Coleman Dumas, a 70-year-old white farmer, who owned the land on which he and his family worked. At the time Cobb was just 15 years old. At the mercy of an all-white jury, he too was sentenced to death.

Cobb’s case went through the Georgia courts and was appealed to the US Supreme court by the NAACP’s General Counsel Robert L. Carter and an NAACP Atlanta lawyer, Donald L. Hollowell.

The same outrage and concern Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and many other human rights organizations expressed over Davis’s case, was also reflected in the support Cobb received.
Women’s societies protested the sentencing and the judicial decision to transfer Cobb to a facility for “hardened criminals.” Also many international student groups created petitions and campaigns requesting his clemency. A Dutch delegation even came to the states to plead on Cobb’s behalf to the governor.

At the time of Cobb’s case, Georgia law permitted the execution of convicted children as young as 14 years old. But global attention surrounding the case persuaded Georgia Gov. S. Ernest Vandiver to recommend the law’s revision, setting precedence for those under the age of 18 convicted of crimes and sentenced to death. With the unrelenting help of the NAACP and global support, Cobb’s fate as being the youngest to die by execution in Georgia was never realized. Although he still served a substantial sentence of 18 years in jail.

Though many are saddened or conflicted over Troy Davis’s execution, we remain hopeful that the Davis case will be just as influential as Cobb’s in reforming the justice system and our penal legislation.

If you are interested in seeking more information on this historic case and the tireless work of Donald L. Hollowell , please visit the Auburn Avenue Research Library to access primary and secondary sources in the Reference & Research and Archives Divisions. The Donald L. Hollowell Papers are currently being processed and will soon be available for research.


"Ga. Legislature to Decide Boy's Future." Atlanta Daily World, October 10, 1961, p. 1.

"Hearing in Cobb Case October 26." Atlanta Daily World, October 24, 1961, p. 4.

"The Curtains Fall on The Preston Cobb Case." Atlanta Daily World, February 25, 1968, p. 4.

Posted by Yewande Addie, AARL Intern

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