The Trials of Eroy Brown

9780292726949: Hardback
Release Date: 15th October 2011

9780292744066: Paperback
Release Date: 16th May 2012

16 b&w photos, 3 maps

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 247

Series Jack and Doris Smothers Series in Texas History, Life, and Culture

University of Texas Press

The Trials of Eroy Brown

The Murder Case That Shook the Texas Prison System

Hardback / £24.99
Paperback / £20.99

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.

  • Prologue: Victorville, 2010
  • Chapter 1: A Fishing Trip to Ellis Prison
  • Chapter 2: Death at Turkey Creek
  • Chapter 3: Estelle's Bitterness
  • Chapter 4: A Confusing Scene
  • Chapter 5: The Aura of Ellis
  • Chapter 6: The Witch and the Writ Writers
  • Chapter 7: The Question of the Gun
  • Chapter 8: The Shadow of Ruiz
  • Chapter 9: Weasel
  • Chapter 10: The Dangers of Testifying
  • Chapter 11: Old Thing
  • Chapter 12: Eroy as Aggressor
  • Chapter 13: The Defense Is Self-Defense
  • Chapter 14: Eroy's Story
  • Chapter 15: The Perfect Defendant
  • Chapter 16: The TDC on Trial
  • Chapter 17: The Arc of the Moral Universe
  • Chapter 18: The Shoes of Eroy Brown
  • Chapter 19: Politics and Prisons
  • Chapter 20: The State Tries Again
  • Chapter 21: A Cat Batters a Mouse
  • Chapter 22: Twenty-Three Jurors
  • Chapter 23: Still Not Protected
  • Chapter 24: Paying for Justice
  • Chapter 25: The End of an Era
  • Chapter 26: Free at Last
  • Chapter 27: Aftermath
  • Notes
  • A Note on the Sources
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index

Recipient of the Texas Institute of Letters prize for nonfiction, MIchael Berryhill has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times magazine, Harper’s, The New Republic, and the Houston Chronicle. He chairs the journalism program at Texas Southern University.

"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."

Molly Ivins

"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."

Publishers Weekly

"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