Will 5 Ounces of Cabbage Help Convict Leo M. Frank?
August 2nd, 1913
Are five and half ounces of cabbage to be the principal factor in sending a man to the gibbet?
If the prosecution is warranted in its belief in the vital and incriminating importance of the testimony of Dr. H. F. Harris, director of the State Board of Health, this is exactly the outcome to be expected in the trial of Leo M. Frank, charged with the murder of little Mary Phagan.
It remains, however, for the State to show explicitly just how the sensational statements made last Friday afternoon by medical expert any more clearly connect Leo Frank with the terrible crime than they connect Jim Conley, the negro, who was skulking in the National Pencil Factory at the same time. The testimony of Mrs. Arthur White is relied upon to do that very thing.
State Plays High Card.
The Harris testimony was without doubt the highest card the prosecution has played since the trial of Frank started. No other evidence ever has been brought out in the three months of the murder mystery that fixed so definitely and apparently so far beyond dispute the time that the pretty factory girl met her death.
As the testimony stands, no opportunity having been given for cross-examination or refutation. It is easily the most damning that has been placed before the jury. It will remain so until the lawyers for the defense are able to attack the doctor’s testimony or are given the opportunity to attach to it a significance entirely different than that advanced by the State.
Dr. Harris analyzed the contents of the murdered girl’s stomach. He found there 160 cubic centimeters, or about five and two-fifths ounces of cabbage and biscuit. This was the meal Mrs. J. W. Coleman, Mary’s mother, testified that her daughter had eaten just before she left home on the day of the tragedy.
Killed at Early Hour.
The process of digestion had barely begun. Dr. Harris showed two specimens of cabbage which had been in healthy men’s stomachs for an hour. They had been reduced to an emulsion. The cabbage taken from the stomach of Mary Phagan still showed the texture of the vegetable’s leaves. The digestive fluids seemed to have acted scarcely at all. The presumption was, therefore, said Dr. Harris, that the little girl had met her death within half an hour after she had eaten the simple meal at her home to Bellwood and had left for the pencil factory. At the most, that was three-quarters of an hour.
Dr. Harris gave his testimony with a professional assurance, the effect of which can be counteracted only by the uttermost skill of Luther Rosser and Reuben Arnold. He was positive that the girl was killed within a half or three-quarters of an hour after she had eaten.
This meant that she was attacked and murdered between 12:05, which is about the time the State believes she entered the factory, and 12:20. It was at 12:05 that Monteen Stover said she entered and found Frank absent from his office.
Describes Wounds Vividly.
The courtroom was hushed as Dr. Harris described the wounds of the girl in a manner that vividly portrayed the State’s theory of how the girl met her death.
She was attacked near the lathing machine. There was a struggle. Her assailant, infuriated at her resistance or fearful of the approach of persons, struck her fiercely over the right eye. Dr. Harris described the injury. It must have been made with the fist, he said, or with some soft instrument, as there were few signs of abrasion of the skin, only a swelling and discoloration.
The blow felled the girl to the floor. She struck her head against some hard substance. Dr. Harris indicated this by testifying that the skin above the wound on the back of the head had been shoved upward slightly, a circumstance which would hardly have obtained had the blow on the back of the head been delivered by a club or other instrument.
Further to clinch the State’s indictment, charging strangulation, Dr. Harris was positive that the blow on the back of the head could not have caused death. It remained for the assailant to choke the unconscious little girl. There were indications of a criminal attempt before the girl’s death. Of all this the medical examiner told while Leo Frank looked on him with the same speculative expression he had given the other witnesses. The accused showed neither by the flicker of an eye lid nor the paling of a cheek that the graphic reproduction of what the State regarded as the circumstances of the gruewsome crime had affected him in the least.
If the prosecution is able to establish the accuracy of the conclusions reached by Dr. Harris as a result of his analysis and examination, it then will ask:
“If Jim Conley is the murderer of Mary Phagan and attacked her between 12:05 and 12:20, how did he happen to be dozing on a box by the side of the stairs on the first floor when Mrs. Arthur White came down stairs at about 12:50?”
As it stands, the testimony of Dr. Harris not by any means conclusive. It is, however, far the most damaging evidence that has been submitted.
An interested public is awaiting the answer that the defense will make.