Suwannee Democrat

The Suwannee Scribbler

September 18, 2012

The Suwannee Scribbler - 
The wheels of justice

Live Oak — I spent a goodly portion of my life sitting in Florida courtrooms. Fortunately, never as a defendant, but as a news reporter.

There were times when I listened for seemingly endless hours to cops, forensic experts, witnesses, judges and even occasional defendants. Remember, there is no legal requirement that the accused take the stand in his own defense and in my experience, a significant number never do, to the great relief of their attorneys.   

At any rate, because of this background I would like to think I have a better understanding of the judicial process than most. I also think I’ve gained a greater tolerance for the snail’s pace that almost always accompanies adjudication.    

That doesn’t mean that I am not as susceptible to the same frustrations many experience with today’s legal system; where seemingly open and shut cases often take months and sometimes years to make their way through the courts.

It’s when that happens that I contemplate a time when “justice” was always swift in this land. One of those stand-out dates is today’s.

Eighty-one year-old Giles Corey was an early Colonial settler many of us would be proud to point to as an ancestor. Even in his old age, he apparently was a man of considerable strength and intellect. Corey was an active member of his church and from the indications we have today, a respected member of the Salem colony. By 1692, he had already outlived three-wives and was still viral enough to take a fourth. He had worked hard and in the process had become a successful businessman and farmer.

Then, the so-called Salem Witch Hunt began and his life suddenly became a nightmare. He and three women were arrested for conspiring with the Devil, based primarily on the allegations of four young women.

    In the weeks that followed, one of the women arrested with him told authorities under questioning that the old farmer was a warlock or male witch.

    Corey would have none of it. He refused to enter any plea and under Salem’s laws, there could be no trial before that happened.

    In frustration with his refusal to cooperate, authorities finally ordered the old man stripped naked and sandwiched between two large planks. Then on the top, they began to place large stones.  

    The process went like this; Corey would be asked to plea. A refusal would result in the sheriff placing another large rock atop his prone body. The old man’s only food consisted of a daily ration three pieces of bread and three sips of water.

    The pile of rocks grew and grew. It reached the point where the sheriff climbed up on the pile, so as to demand Corey’s plea.  

For two days, the brutally, torturous process continued. Witnesses described Corey’s eyes as bulging from their sockets and his tongue forced out of his lips…until the sheriff rammed it back into his mouth with his cane.

Public records show Corey finally expired at noon on this date 320-years ago.  He must have been in amazing physical condition to survive as long as he did, particularly at his advanced age. But it is his moral courage which is even more impressive.  

    One final time, the sheriff climbed atop his prisoner. One final time he demanded of the old man, “Guilty or innocent?”

And with his last breath, Giles Corey reportedly replied as he had before, “More rock.”

Jim lives in Live Oak.


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