William Broughton

Fulton County, Georgia
Date of Alleged Crime:  February 22, 1900

(Federal Case) After receiving a letter he considered obscene, the City Solicitor of Atlanta, Nash R. Broyles, turned it over to Federal Authorities. The letter reflected pointedly on Broyles' moral character. It was signed Grant Jackson, so a man named Grant Jackson was arrested as well as William Broughton who was considered by authorities to be a close friend of Jackson and of necessity involved in whatever mischief Jackson might be involved. Broyles had sent both Jackson and Broughton to jail at various times for a variety of misdemeanors. Both Jackson and Broughton denied writing the letter or having any knowledge of it.

The case against Jackson collapsed when it was found that he could not write, but authorities discovered that Broughton had written a letter for Jackson on at least one occasion. Police persuaded Broughton to write a letter to his mother, asking her to send clothing to him at the jail. This stratagem gave them a sample of his handwriting to compare to the Broyles' letter. Authorities concluded the handwriting was the same and Broughton was indicted.

At Broughton's trial, Broyles testified not only as a witness, but also as a handwriting expert. Broyles qualified as an expert because he said a number of cases involving handwriting had come before him when he was United States Commissioner in Atlanta. Broyles told the jury there were incriminating and unmistakable similarities between the writing in the letter he had received and the note Broughton had sent his mother. While there were similarities, there were also dissimilarities. Broyles testified that these dissimilarities could be explained by Broughton trying to disguise his handwriting when he wrote the note to his mother.

Two other handwriting experts testified to points of similarity between the letters. The two were considered experts because one had experience in bank work while the other was an auditor for the Standard Oil Company. In his defense Broughton denied knowledge of the letter and stated that he held no grudge against Broyles for his frequent commitments to jail. However, Broughton was convicted, sentenced to 5 years in jail, and fined $500 plus the costs of prosecution.

Subsequent events revealed that another man, Charley Mitchell, had written the letter. Mitchell had a dispute with Jackson over a 20-cent loan and a scarf pin. To get even, Mitchell sent the letter to Broyles, signing it with Jackson's name. Broughton was released after serving two months of his sentence. Mitchell was sentenced to the same sentence as Broughton, but only had to pay a $100 fine.  [4/08]


Reference:  Convicting the Innocent

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Georgia Cases, Miscellaneous Forensics