“Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord”

Published 5:00 am Friday, August 29, 2003

A few months ago when I was visiting Rosehill Cemetery, SidKincade, superintendent, pointed out a startling epitaph on agravestone.

George T. Oliver

aged 29 years, 1 day

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Shot to death by Clarence Temple

October 31, 1912

Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord

I will repay

I thought, “Wow! I’ve got to check this out!”

According to newspaper reports and court records, here’s whathappened:

Clarence Temple and George Oliver had known each other casually.They both had had a close relationship with the same Brookhavenwoman, “Mary,” who was married but separated and planned to get adivorce. She was referred to by the newspaper as a “lewd” woman.Her affair with Temple had occurred some time previously inJackson, but since she had moved to Brookhaven, she had takenOliver as her lover. They lived together and planned to marry.

On the fatal day, Temple had visited Oliver and Mary in theirresidence. The two men seemed friendly and had a few drinkstogether. Mary testified that Oliver had gotten angry with her andhad threatened to whip her. She testified that even though Oliverhad not made any move to hurt her, Temple walked across the room toface Oliver, pulled out his pistol and shot Oliver; and as he fellto the floor, shot him again and then left.

Temple claimed that Oliver had reached in his breast to draw apistol and that Temple shot him in self-defense and emptied his guninto him. Several character witnesses testified that Temple was apeaceful man of good reputation.

The newspaper reported that both Temple and Mary made goodstrong witnesses and were believable.

After lengthy arguments of the attorneys, the jury retired toconsider its verdict. After two days of intense debate, theyannounced a verdict of guilty of manslaughter rather thanmurder.

Before the final verdict, there had been several improperincidents involving the handling of the jury by the bailiffs. Oncethree of the jurors were allowed to go to the barbershop forshaves, and there was much talk in the shop about the case. Onejuror told the barber that the jury was firmly divided 10 to 2 forconviction.

Also, the circuit judge, during the deliberation of the jury,traveled to Copiah County and left the jury in charge of a specialjudge. When the jury reported through the bailiff to the specialjudge that they were hopelessly deadlocked, they were told theycould not be discharged until they reached a verdict. The juryreturned to its deliberations and then compromised and decided on averdict of guilty of manslaughter.

Temple’s attorney appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.Because of the irregularities with the jury and the absence of thepresiding judge during the jury’s deliberations, Temple was allowedto have a new trial.

The second courtroom battle was held Thursday, Sept. 11, 1913,which resulted in an outright acquittal of the defendant onSaturday the 14th.

It was then that the embittered Oliver family had the last wordby erecting the vengeful epitaph.

Bob Jones is a Brookhaven attorney and resident. You maycontact him at 833-7075.