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Local Author Solves 88-Year-Old Walker County Mystery

In March 1922, Deputy Sheriff Joseph Morton was gunned down atop Lookout Mountain at the Durham Depot. The culprits two young brothers, Ralph and George Baker were swiftly apprehended. By April they were brought to trial and within a mere three hours a jury was selected, the brothers tried, and sentenced to death by hanging. Yet, one year later, only one brother would hang from the gallows in the Walker County Jail, taking an agonizing eleven minutes to die. It is little wonder that within less than a year, Georgia changed its official form of capital punishment to electrocution. In investigating trial transcripts, written accounts, and old newspapers, local author Marnie Pehrson has deduced Georgia may have hanged the wrong brother.

"There were so many conflicting accounts of this crime that I began asking myself, 'What if they are all telling the truth from their perspective?' This question led me on a quest for answers and toward solving an 88-year-old mystery that people of the time weren't concerned about solving. Deputy Morton was the third lawman to be killed in an 18-month period in Walker County. The Governor of Georgia needed to make a statement and stop the madness. In their rush to make sure someone paid for the crime, they overlooked a key witness and didn't think through all the evidence," asserts Pehrson, the second great granddaughter of Joseph Morton.

Pehrson's novel, An Uncertain Justice, brings together all the evidence and accounts she could find. She crafts a cohesive version of events that explains all the evidence, including the telegraph and telephone wires that mysteriously stopped working on the clear afternoon of the murder. Pehrson even uncovered an eye-witness account the defense did not use because the witness was a Mason. 

In February 2010, Pehrson discussed her findings at the Walker County Historical Society at the LaFayette Library. Dr. David Boyle, President of the Society commented on the likelihood of a Mason's testimony being ignored, "In 1922, the War Between the States was still within the memory of a lot of people. Walker County was very heavily split between the Union and Confederacy. Poor working farm people in the hills didn't have much respect or care for the people down in the valley, who were more Southern and a number of them were slave holders and Masons. So you've stumbled into some Walker County History. Walker County has five distinct communities, and it never has been easy to govern. What one section wants, the other one doesn't. When they were picking a jury, and they had to get a jury from the general population, it could be very political, cultural and post-Civil War."

Pehrson contends that what many in 1922 asserted was a premeditated murder, may have been a heat-of-the-moment act by two drunken boys who'd just flubbed a train robbery. While the brother hanged for the crime was present and party to the murder, An Uncertain Justice portrays a convincing argument that he never fired a shot.

Marnie Pehrson may be reached for comment at 706-866-2295 or marnie@marniepehrson.com 


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