CONWAY, Ark. -- A jury acquitted two white former policemen charged with first-degree murder in the jailhouse death 25 years ago of a black man.
The all-white jury delivered its verdict Wednesday before a packed circuit courtroom in the trial of O.H. 'Bill' Mullenax of Little Rock, who is now a state police sergeant, and Marvin Iberg, now a Conway truck driver.
They were Conway police officers at the time of the death of Marvin Williams in the Faulkner County jail. They had arrested Williams, 21, of Menifee for public drunkenness about 1 a.m. on May 6, 1960. Several hours later, Williams was found dead in his cell.
Williams's body was exhumed in December and state Medical Examiner Fahmy Malak said then that a blow to the back of the head could have caused his fatal injury. Iberg and Mullenax, who have contended that Williams was injured by a fall on the courthouse steps as they were taking him to jail, were indicted by a special grand jury that met in March.
The day after Williams' death in 1960, a coroner's jury absolved the officers of any wrongdoing and said Williams died from a concussion of the brain and there was no evidence of foul play. An autopsy revealed that although Williams was arrested for public drunkenness, there was no alcohol in his blood. The coroner's jury made its ruling without seeing the autopsy.
The case was reopened last year after Charles Hackney, now a state prison inmate, wrote a letter to various officials and said he had seen Williams being beaten by policemen on that night in 1960.
Hackney testifed during the trial that he was an inmate in the county jail that night but he did not see Iberg and Mullenax beating Williams. He said he saw the late Sheriff Joe Castleberry and his jailer, Joe Martin, beating a black man. On the witness stand, Martin loudly maintained he had not beaten Williams. Martin has not been charged.
Presiding Judge Don Langston said after the verdict that the jury 'could have gone either way. I think the evidence was there to find a guilty verdict' or to find an innocent verdict.
'Thank God,' Mullenax exclaimed. 'I knew I wasn't guilty. I just feel mostly upset.'
'We didn't do it,' Iberg said.
Asked who did, Iberg said he did not know.
Williams' brother, Ronnie Williams, said outside the courtroom that the jurors 'have got to live with their conscience. The jury obviously didn't have the strength to go against the local politics.'
He said his opinion on what happened to his brother had not changed and that he felt justice eventually will be served because 'there'll be no politics in God's court.'