The murder of Grac Jones: Chapter 9

Published 9:14 pm Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The preliminary trial

EDITOR’S NOTE: On the evening of Oct. 26, 1908, five shots rang out in the village of Holland. Tiberius Gracchus “Grac” Jones lay dying on the ground inside the gate leading to his home. “They have killed me and killed me for telling the truth,” he told a friend as his life ebbed away. This is the ninth in a series of articles about the Jones murder case. Suffolk historian Kermit Hobbs Jr. compiled the 18-part series from personal accounts, newspaper stories and court records he has studied from the period.

By Kermit Hobbs Jr.

Special to the News-Herald

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A preliminary trial had been scheduled to begin in Nansemond County courthouse in Suffolk in November 1908, but because of a dispute between attorneys a delay was granted until Dec. 1.

During the weeks since the coroner’s inquest, some people who had testified earlier had developed suspicious lapses of memory, particularly among those who had testified against Sam Hardy. The prosecuting attorneys accused them of having given in to pressure from the other side, but they all denied that they had spoken to anyone.

Sam Pete Holland

Sam Pete Holland

The defendant, Sam Hardy, was brought in, well-dressed and appearing “jaunty, cheerful, and at times almost gay,” according to accounts from the period. He frequently arose from his chair to greet friends who “grasped his hand warmly.”

The first of the witnesses called were the two doctors who attended Mr. Jones after he was shot and who had performed the autopsy. Later, people who had been at the crime scene on the fatal night were called and questioned.

The discovery of the shotgun forearm, the incidents regarding Hardy’s threats against Grac Jones and Hardy’s arming himself with a pistol were confirmed.

The person who had testified that Sam Hardy said he would give $50 “to meet Grac Jones in the Dismal Swamp” denied that he had ever made such a statement, even though it was recorded by the stenographer at the inquest. He finally admitted that he had heard Hardy’s remark.

E.P. Trotman was called and, under questioning, testified that he had once been hunting with Sam Pete Holland when he owned the shotgun that was later owned by Sam Hardy. At one point in the woods, the gun had become entangled with a vine and pulled the forearm off. This fact, the prosecution would argue, suggested that it was, indeed, the gun used to kill Grac Jones.

Sam Pete Holland was grilled by prosecution attorneys as to the purpose of his “fact finding” trip to Norfolk. It was discovered that he had visited pawn shops and gun shops in an attempt to find another Ithaca shotgun like the one that had killed Grac Jones. Holland became so entangled in his testimony that he was arrested for perjury. Some of Sam Hardy’s supporters bailed him out.

An interesting fact was revealed by John “Minky” Joyner, Grac Jones’ erstwhile friend. Joyner testified that Jones had offered him $1,000 to testify that he had heard Sam Hardy say Zach Holland’s will was deliberately destroyed.

The question of the will’s being destroyed had prompted the enmity between Jones and Hardy. Grac Jones believed he was shot for telling the “truth” that it had been destroyed.

The fact that Jones had tried to bribe Joyner to falsely testify to it proved that Grac Jones’ personal honor was not as ironclad as he had wanted everyone to believe.

It became clear that the defense’s case would rest upon their providing an alibi for Sam Hardy at the time of the murder. Three people — A.A. “Gus” Holland, Mrs. A.A. Holland and a fellow boarder, Lon Whidbee, would testify that Sam Hardy was sick in his bed when the awful deed was done.

When testimony was completed and closing remarks had been given, Justice J.F. DeBerry ruled that the case did, in fact, have merit and would be brought to a full trial.

Supporters of Sam Hardy were stunned. Some had planned a homecoming dinner to celebrate the dismissal of his case. One defense attorney had commented that based on the flimsy evidence presented by the prosecution, no court would convict Hardy.

TOMORROW: The trial — prosecution

Previous: Chapter 8