In April 1981, two white Texas prison officials died at the hands of a black inmate at the Ellis prison farm near Huntsville. Warden Wallace Pack and farm manager Billy Moore were the highest-ranking Texas prison officials ever to die in the line of duty. The warden was drowned face down in a ditch. The farm manager was shot once in the head with the warden's gun. The man who admitted to killing them, a burglar and robber named Eroy Brown, surrendered meekly, claiming self-defense.
In any other era of Texas prison history, Brown's fate would have seemed certain: execution. But in 1980, federal judge William Wayne Justice had issued a sweeping civil rights ruling in which he found that prison officials had systematically and often brutally violated the rights of Texas inmates. In the light of that landmark prison civil rights case, Ruiz v. Estelle, Brown had a chance of being believed.
The Trials of Eroy Brown, the first book devoted to Brown's astonishing defense, is based on trial documents, exhibits, and journalistic accounts of Brown's three trials, which ended in his acquittal. Michael Berryhill presents Brown's story in his own words, set against the backdrop of the chilling plantation mentality of Texas prisons. Brown's attorneys—Craig Washington, Bill Habern, and Tim Sloan—undertook heroic strategies to defend him, even when the state refused to pay their fees. The Trials of Eroy Brown tells a landmark story of prison civil rights and the collapse of Jim Crow justice in Texas.
"If ever there was a dead man, it was Eroy Brown, a black convict who killed two white prison guards. The story of [Craig] Washington’s successful three-trial defense of Brown should be a book and a movie. This one is going to live as a Gettysburg in legal history."
"Concise, clearly written, and suspenseful. . . . The sensational Eroy Brown case has been waiting for a book for more than twenty years, and now it has one. Berryhill’s take on the prison homicides and the remarkable trials is comprehensively researched and well-contextualized in the history of Texas prisons and state politics."
Robert Perkinson, author of Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire
"Michael Berryhill is a very gifted storyteller, and this is a very powerful story."
Gary M. Lavergne, author of Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice
"Well documented and unsentimental, Berryhill's account of this infamous 30-year-old murder case that pitted one man's innocent plea against Texas's political might provides a jarring portrait of a once-medieval state prison."
"Michael Berryhill tells Brown's side of the story with care and skill...the story contributes to the growing literature on Texas prisons and prison histories, and it resonates beyond this topic."
The Journal of Southern History