Conviction In Cuyahoga County: A True Story in Black and White
Riveting True Story of Greed and Bigotry
About the Author
For a long time, Jo Jo Weaver had been fascinated with the workings of the justice system. Such an interest took on new meaning in 1983 when she served on a jury. The experience led Jo Jo to explore the circumstances of her own father’s trial that happened years before she was born. What she discovered astonished her.
Jo Jo Weaver has a degree in sociology from Flora Stone Mather College of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. She lives in the Cleveland area.
How I Came to Write this Book
in Jo Jo Weaver's own words
In 1983, I was called to jury dutymy chance to see up close how the justice system worked. After sitting around in the jury lounge for days, I was among a dozen or so other prospective jurors escorted into a courtroom for the voir dire process. One by one we were asked whether we could convict solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Hearing the question transported me back more than 50 years. The fleeting scene was a similar courtroom, my father sitting at a table, his attorney at his side. The year was 1927, and Joe Weaver was on trial for his life. Certain that circumstantial evidence had put him there, I answered no to the question and was dismissed from the jury box. More days of waiting took place before the next time in the jury box. That chance ended the same way.
In the huge lounge with multiple televisions along the walls, magazines and newspapers to read, jigsaw puzzles and other table games to play, one becomes acquainted with others fighting the same tedium. Selection to a case becomes an accomplishment, something I had failed to achieve twice. I held fast to the opinion that the only credible evidence was eyewitness testimony: Someone actually pointing the finger at the accused and saying, “I saw him do it.” No such evidence could have put my father on death row, I was sure; therefore his wrongful conviction must have been by circumstantial evidence.
Acquaintances in the lounge began to ask me why I had answered the way I did. I opened up to them about my father’s sentence to death on evidence that must have been circumstantial. Their questions made me realize that I had only scant knowledge of that part of my father’s life years before I was born and long before he married a woman 22 years his junior. That evening, I rummaged through old newspaper clippings and letters passed on to me after my mother’s death in 1978. In a number of articles, perjury showed up. It was perjured testimony, not circumstantial evidence that had convicted my father! Still, the question about circumstantial evidence remained. Oddly, something happened that same week that changed my view.
An off-duty policeman working as a security guard was shot and killed in a Cleveland bank robbery. Three employees identified the shooter as a black man who had worked at the bank. The Cleveland police with warrants for the man’s arrest went to the man’s house, looking for the suspect. They were met by his father who maintained that his son was could not have robbed the bank because he was in the Navy. An all-day check with military authorities finally revealed that the suspect had been out of the country on military deployment at the time of the robbery. The three employees who had seen him in the bank recanted their identification. The issue of evidence was settled for me: eyewitness testimony was no better or worse than circumstantial evidence. The next time in the voir dire process, I could respond in the affirmative in good conscience. I told my jury friends at the Justice Center about the news item and explained its effect upon my decision.
Some of us were assigned to the same trial in Judge J. D. Sweeney’s courtroom. Although we wrangled in the deliberation room and it seemed that indeed, as one hold-out said, hell would freeze over before we would all agree, we got past our differences, yet still maintained the rapport established earlier. I was designated to bring us together for a dinner in six months. One of the jurors, nicknamed Bill, asked me to bring along the news clippings about my father's trial. Six months later, except for one juror, we all met for the reunion at an Italian restaurant. Perusing the material that I had organized in a loose leaf binder and eating his pasta, Bill looked up at me and said, “You should write a book.”