“Scapegoat: The Tommy Lee Hines Story” By: Peggy Allen Towns
“Scapegoat: The Tommy Lee Hines Story”
Author: Peggy Allen Towns
Price: $14.99 (Paper)
“Decatur Historian Documents Miscarriage of Justice”
Following her retirement in 2011 after 20 years working as a Congressional aide, Peggy Allen Towns, Decatur native, has devoted her efforts full-time to uncovering and documenting neglected areas of Alabama history, especially that of the African-American citizens of Decatur. Her work was recognized in March by the Alabama Historical Association with the prestigious Virginia Van Der Veer Hamilton Award. She joins previous winners such as Wayne Flynt, Hardy Jackson and Jay Lamar.
Her first book, “Duty Driven: The Plight of North Alabama’s African Americans During the Civil War,” 2012, was driven by family research. She learned that an ancestor, George Allen, had served in a regiment of United States Colored Troops, in the Union Army, and had been captured, sent to Mobile, and forced to work on fortifications for the city.
She followed that with a reexamination of the trials of the Scottsboro boys, trials which were held mostly in Decatur. The result was “Scottsboro Unmasked: Decatur’s Story,” 2018.
Towns’ prose is not always graceful but her newest, “Scapegoat,” the story of Tommy Lee Hines’ arrest and trial, is important and disturbing, and deserves to be read.
Hines was 26 years old, five feet, two inches tall and weighed about 120 pounds. He had an IQ of about 35. One examination concluded that he had the mental maturation of a person 6.4 years old. A later test corrected that to 4.6 years old.
He could not read or write and could not in fact sign his name correctly.
Hines attended the Cherry Street School Development Center, rarely missing a day.
In May of 1978, Hines was arrested for the robbery and the rape of three white women. It seemed extremely unlikely. The assailant was described as 5’6” to 5’7”.
As the investigation proceeded, one of the women said her assailant had removed audio equipment from her car. Two of the women said they had been abducted and then taken to another venue where they were assaulted.
At the trial there was a good deal of dispute over whether Hines had ben read his Miranda rights and if he could possibly have understood them.
There was a confession, signed by Hines, which he could not have written, and psychologists testified that his retardation was so acute he would easily have been led by suggestion, to agree to most anything.
When asked whether he had raped two women or three, he answered three.
When asked, he also said there were 65 pennies in a dime and October, November and December were days of the week.
The district attorney, however, was determined. The black community organized for Hines’ support.
As had been the case with the Scottsboro boys, legal help arrived from out of town, in this case from the SCLC, including the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, not the American Communist party. Nevertheless, this provoked white backlash, cross burnings, counter-demonstrations, and at one point the Klan held a “membership rally” attended by a thousand people. Over time there would be several confrontations, increasingly violent, including gunfire.
The defense asked for a change of venue and this was reluctantly granted, to Cullman Alabama, where only one percent of the population was black. There would be no black jurors.
In court, the woman victim testified that her assailant wore a green garbage bag over his head. She identified Hines anyway.
Hines was convicted and given 30 years. Of course there would be appeals, ostensibly successful, but Hines would spend 25 years in Bryce, then Partlow, then in a group home.
Reading the story of Tommy Hines’ trial, one is of course reminded of Tom Robinson and his disability in “Mockingbird,” in which the jury simply refuses to see the facts in front of them. But that trial was fictional and set in 1933. The Hines trial was REAL and set in 1978, yesterday.
Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.