Closing Argument: Ray Jenkins Defending June Newberry - Articles

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Posted by: Donald Paine on Apr 2, 2009

Journal Issue Date: Apr 2008

Journal Name: April 2008 - Vol. 44, No. 4

In Lenoir City on Nov. 6, 1961, June Newberry shot Ann Gowder in the left temple as the latter arrived for work. Why? Because Ann had stolen June's husband Raymond and taunted her about the theft.

It would be a hard case to defend. The state sought the death penalty. June's lead Loudon County counsel sought assistance from legendary Ray Jenkins, the "Terror of Tellico Plains."

The trial covered three days in 1962, Wednesday-Friday, Jan. 31-Feb. 2. Clad in black, June sobbed and even fainted. But she took the stand to present the defense of temporary insanity with help from Jenkins. Husband Raymond's "shacks" with Ann at Chattanooga and Dixie Lee Junction were admissible nonhearsay to prove the mental state of the hearer, June.

The clincher on the fatal morning was Ann's taunt to June at Roberts' Grocery: "You used to have him, but he's mine now."

Arthur Fowler opened defense arguments and did a commendable job. His son Art (who sent me on this goose chase) copied a reel-to-reel audiotape of the arguments onto compact disc. I am listening as I write.

Ray Jenkins followed Fowler. The written word cannot convey his oratory. But he put the absent Raymond Newberry on trial as architect of the tragedy. Every few minutes Jenkins shouted the question: "Where are you, Raymond?" And once he bellowed: "Lover boy, why didn't you come to court?"

He summarized June Newberry's testimony about the little son and daughter clinging to Raymond's pants as he was deserting the marriage household: "Oh, Daddy, don't leave us and don't leave Mama!" He compared the 21-year-old victim's perfume with his 33-year-old client's honest sweat.

After Judge Witt's charge, the jury deliberated for two hours and 15 minutes. Their verdict was guilt of voluntary manslaughter and the minimum sentence of two years. There was no appeal. June Newberry served around a year and a half at the women's prison in Nashville.  

Don Paine DONALD F. PAINE is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is of counsel to the Knoxville firm of Paine, Tarwater, Bickers, and Tillman LLP. He lectures for the Tennessee Law Institute, BAR/BRI Bar Review, Tennessee Judicial Conference, and UT College of Law. He is reporter to the Supreme Court Advisory Commission on Rules of Practice and Procedure.