Oklahoma’s Atticus: An Innocent Man and the Lawyer Who Fought for Him

Hunter Howe Cates. Bison, $27.95 (232p) ISBN 978-1-49620090-7
The history of two Tulsas—the oil boom town and the slums where race riots and abject poverty were the norm—provides the background for journalist Cates’s powerful first book. In the spring of 1953, 11-year-old Phyllis Jean Warren went missing from her home in a poor neighborhood. Three weeks later, her father found her body buried in a nearby field. The police soon arrested Buster Youngwolfe, a 21-year-old Cherokee who was related to the victim. Under brutal treatment in custody, Youngwolfe confessed to the rape and murder, but he later recanted. The author’s grandfather, Elliott Howe, a young public defender at the time, believed Youngwolfe was innocent and defended him at the subsequent trial. Howe, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, realized he could have ended up like the impoverished Youngwolfe had his life been different. The race to judgment in the court and media made the trial an uphill battle for Howe, but after the admission of the results of a lie detector test, the court went straight to closing arguments and the prosecutor told the jury he could not “conscientiously ask you to convict this defendant.” After a quick deliberation, the jury returned a not guilty verdict. In an afterword, the author calls on the authorities to reopen the case, even though no one may ever know who really killed Phyllis Jean Warren. Cates argues strongly for the presumption of innocence as a fundamental right. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 09/17/2019
Release date: 11/01/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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