Payne Boyd

Mercer County, West Virginia
Date of Crime:  May 30, 1918

In 1918, a black coal miner named Cleveland Boyd was convicted on vagrancy complaints.  He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $25.  The judge who convicted him, Squire H. E. Cook, and a deputy sheriff, A. M. Godfrey, then prepared to take him to the jail at Matoaka.  Boyd, however, pleaded to stop at his home about 100 yards away where he could exchange his new shoes for older, more comfortable ones.  On stopping at his home, Boyd retrieved a revolver and shot the judge twice, mortally wounding him.  The deputy sheriff fled for his life.  Boyd fled into the hills and escaped capture.

In 1924, a black man, using the name Payne Boyd, was arrested for a minor offense in Richmond, Virginia.  Because his description seemed to match that of Cleveland Boyd, Richmond police mailed his photograph to authorities in Mercer County.  The authorities then came and took the defendant to West Virginia, after identifying him as Cleveland Boyd.  At trial in Feb. 1925, the defendant was convicted of Cook's murder, but the conviction was overturned, and the defendant was retried in April 1925.  Eight prosecution witnesses testified that the defendant was Cleveland Boyd.  Two of them testified that Cleveland had a scar over his left eye.  The defendant had a remnant of a scar over his left eye.  Three of the witnesses testified that Cleveland had a scar under his left jaw, as did the defendant.  Sixteen other prosecution witnesses, who had known Cleveland, testified that the defendant resembled Cleveland, but they were not certain enough of their identification to swear to it.  Four of these witnesses entertained doubt.

Thirty-one defense witnesses testified that the defendant was not Cleveland.  Many of these were blacks who had known Cleveland intimately.  Some testified to points of dissimilarity between the two as to height, weight, complexion, hair, lips, and feet.  Six additional witnesses from North Carolina also testified that the defendant was Payne Boyd and stated he had only lived in Winston-Salem and Roanoke, North Carolina.  The defendant also testified, denying that he had ever been in Mercer County before, or had ever been in a coal mine, or had ever met anyone who knew Cleveland Boyd.  Documents were also produced showing that a Payne Boyd of North Carolina had filled out a draft registration card before the date of the murder and had enlisted in the Army a month and a half after the date of the murder.  Despite this strong defense, the retrial jury convicted the defendant.

The defendant's second conviction was overturned and his third trial was moved to Cabell County.  A fingerprint expert at the Huntingdon Police Department became interested in the case.  He took the defendant's fingerprints and compared them to those of the Payne Boyd on record in the War Department.  He found an exact match.  Other information was also received that corroborated the defendant's story.  At the third trial in Oct. 1925, the defendant, Payne Boyd, was acquitted and released after spending a year and a half in custody.  [11/07]


References:  Convicting the Innocent

Posted in:  Victims of the State, West Virginia Cases, Mistaken Witness ID, Same Name Crimes