1941 Chevrolet Johnny Cooper: Sworn for the State, 1949

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In 1949, Emma Willie Johnekin lost her life due to the purchase of a used 1941 Chevrolet that she didn’t buy.

Richard Lee Cooper needed a car. Marion Wesley Stembridge didn’t sell cars, but he made money securing loans. Stembridge acquired a used 1941 Chevrolet, and Richard Lee Cooper agreed to pay Stembridge $800 along with $227 for insurance on the car. All totaled, payments were $85 per month ($17.50 a week) for a year, making the car note, and insurance, the grand sum of $1,027. I supposed the remaining $7 would balance at the end.

Richard Lee was getting help with the payments. His mother, Mary Jane Harrison gave him $10 a month, and his brother, Johnny, gave him $5 a month. It was a family car. The matter of insurance became imperative when a log truck driven by Hal Hathaway rear ended the ’41 Cooper Chevrolet a few months prior to Emma’s murder. The Cooper family had made a few payments on the car before Hal Hathaway’s log truck crumpled the car’s rear end, leaving the car drivable, but the rear end was torn out and a piston knocked from a reported broken oil pump. Richard Lee Cooper took the car back to Stembridge who, according to record, “didn’t care if lightning struck it and tore it up.” It remains unknown if the oil had been changed properly, but court reports indicate that the wreck was Hal Hathaway and his log truck’s fault.

The Cooper family stopped making payments; however, zero evidence exists of any insurance agreement between Cooper and Stembridge. THE STATE vs. Marion W. Stembridge opens with Direct Examination of Richard Lee Cooper by Shep Baldwin focusing on the ’41 Chevrolet; however, Cross Examination by one of Stembridge’s three attorneys, F.O. Evans, attempts to focus the court on a prior car wreck that Richard Lee Cooper had years before in Eatonton and that Richard Lee was arrested for carrying a pistol three years prior.

Mr. Baldwin: I object to this line of questions. It illustrates no issue in this case, simply put in for prejudice, the fact that [Richard Lee Cooper] had a pistol in 1945 or 1946, whatever it was.

BY THE COURT: Well, I overrule the objection.

 

JOHNNY COOPER, Sworn for the State.

 

Direct Examination [by F.O. Evans]

 

“Your name is Johnny Cooper?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Johnny, on the 7th day of March, 1949, were you at home when Mr. Stembridge and Mr. Terry came up?”

“Yes, sir, I was there.”

“Where were you sitting when they came up?”

“I was sitting there on the right of the house, side of the apartment house, on the porch, on the banister by the chair.”

“On the banister on the porch?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Were you helping Richard pay for an automobile that he bought from Mr. Stembridge before that time?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How much were you supposed to pay on that automobile?”

“$5.”

“$5 how often?”

“Every month.”

“How old were you at the time that automobile was bought?”

“I was 18 years.”

“Had you made any payments yourslef?”

“When I made a payment I gave it to Mama to make, I neger made the payment.”

“How many $5 did you pay on it?”

“Three.”

“Why did you stop paying?”

“After we wrecked the car, would not fix it up and we stopped payments.”

“When Mr. Stembridge and Mr. Terry came there that day did they come up on the porch?”

“Yes, sir, they come up on the porch.”

“Who all were there at the house right then?”

“My wife was there and Emma and my two little sisters.”

“Who was Emma?”

“The one that was killed.”

 

……

 

“Tell us exactly what happened when Mr. Stembridge and Mr. Terry came up?”

“When they came up both came –“

“Look at me and take your time and tell it slowly?”

“When they came up both right up on there. Mr. Sam had his hand in his coat pocket and Mr. Stembridge had his hand in his pants pocket. They came on up and stood up, neither one said nothing. I owed him $20. So I told him about the money I owed him I would pay him on the 10th. I had just started working at the State.”

“Did he ask you anything about it?”

“No, sir.”

“You mean they came and said nothing to any body?”

“No, sir, they didn’t say anything.”

“Did you say anything to him?”

“No, he come up and I owed him that money. I thought he come coming to see me about that.”

“Was it supposed to have been paid?”

“Yes, it was supposed to have been paid.”

“Were you behind with it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You just sat there wheile they stood there with their hands in their pockets?”

“I was sitting down.”

“You didn’t stand up?”

“No, sir.”

“Go ahead?”

“Well after I told [Mr. Stembridge] that he said, ‘Where is Richard?’ I told him him at the box factory. I just had come home from work at the State. [Emma] said, ‘Yes, he at the box factory.’ He said, ‘What you all going to do about the car?’ I told him I wasn’t going to do nothing. He said ‘Where you work?’ I said I am working at the State. He said, ‘Write it out Sam, he is going to sign it.’ Mr. Sam walked against the porch and wrote a blank and handed it to Mr. Stembridge and Mr. Stembridge read it and handed it ti to me and I took it and read it. Mr. Stembridge was standing kind of side of me and he walked up and caught me back of the collar.”

“You said he asked you what you were going to do about the car?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You told him you were not going to do nothing about the car?”

“No, sir, I wasn’t the leader of the car.”

“You told him you were not going to do nothing about the car?”

“Yes, sir.”

1941ad

References:

“1941 Chevrolet Ad.” Old Car Advertisements. Accessed 24 Oct. 2016. Retrieved from http://www.oldcaradvertising.com/Chevrolet/1941/1941%20Chevrolet%20Ad-01.html

“1941 Chevrolet Dealer Sales Brochure Fisher Fleetline Style Hit of 41 Sedan Rare.” Troxel’s Auto Literature. Accessed 24 Oct. 2016. Retrieved from https://www.autopaper.com/1941-chevrolet-dealer-sales-brochure-fisher-fleetline-style-hit-of-41-sedan-rare.php

THE STATE v. Marion W. Stembridge. No. 3839, Criminal Docket F. Baldwin Superior Court. July Term, 1949. Transcript.

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