I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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The true story of trusting a trusty

Last week, Bill Minor wrote in the Clarion Ledger, telling the whole story of Ross Barnett saying, “If you can’t trust a trusty, who can you trust.”  Minor was there, and he has all the details.  I’d heard the short version for years, spun slightly differently– that a Parchman trusty was sent into Arkansas one weekend on an unspecified errand with $10K in cash, and, surprise surprise, just disappeared, and, pressed to explain, Gov. Barnett responded with the famous line.

There’s more to the story than that.

While Barnett was governor, a crazy system of prison leaves started being used.  The Superintendent of Parchman would grant a prisoner a three day leave without any clearance from the parole board or local officials.  Then, a lawyer or other “friend” of Barnett’s would get a seven day extension of the leave, and those extensions would be repeated indefinitely.  Prisoners were just disappearing after a point.

One trusty was a famous killer, Cowboy Dale Morris (who had a longer story interesting in itself).  Here’s how he disappeared:

He convinced Superintendent Jones that if he was permitted to go with two guards and a double horse trailer over to Arkansas, he could pick up a pair of Tennessee walking horses and make Parchman a major horse breeding farm.

So Morris and the two guards set to Arkansas with the empty horse trailer.

Sure enough, on reaching Hot Springs, the cowboy wangles the pair of walking horses. When they are ready to return to the Mississippi prison farm, Morris tells the guards he’d like to take care of some business while in Arkansas. See some girlfriend, no doubt.

“Why don’t you all head on back to Parchman and by the time you get back, I’ll meet you there?” Morris tells the prison guards.

After Morris had been a no-show for three weeks, Gov. Barnett decides he’s going to have to explain all this to reporters.  He starts showing them documents he said vouched for Morris, and then:

He starts shuffling through them and stops when he finds one particular document.

“Why, he was even a trusty,” Barnett proudly crows. Then turning toward me, the governor in his typical hoarse drawl, declares: “If you can’t trust a trusty, who can you trust?”

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