The Trial of Louis Fain - Articles

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Posted by: Donald Paine on Mar 20, 2010

Journal Issue Date: Apr 2010

Journal Name: April 2010 - Vol. 46, No. 4

Carrie Allen left her family home in Bean Station and moved to Knoxville. In 1932 she was 24, working as cashier at the S & W Cafeteria, and living on the second floor of a boarding house at 614 West Church Ave. Louis Fain and his family moved from New Market to Knoxville when he was a young boy; his mother was dead. In 1932 he was about 26, selling illegal Prohibition whiskey, and living with his father and sister and two brothers in the Mechanicsville neighborhood.

Late on the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 28, 1932, Louis Fain and friend Harmon Hale joined a poker game at Cumberland Avenue and Broadway. They left and began walking to the Fain residence for supper, but Louis left Harmon in order to burglarize dwellings on Church Avenue.

One of those was 614 West Church, where Carrie Allen was alone and preparing for bed and sleep. Tragically, between 6:30 and 7 p.m. CST she was raped, robbed and murdered by Louis Fain.

Fain stood trial from Feb. 15 through Feb. 22, 1933. Presiding was Judge E.G. Stooksbury; Fred Bibb prosecuted and R.A. Mynatt defended. Items the accused had taken from the victim's room were strong evidence of guilt. But most damning was the testimony of former friend Harmon Hale, which I have excerpted from the full trial transcript:

Q.       Your name is Harmon Hale?
A.       Yes, sir.
Q.       How long have you known Louis Fain?
A.       I have known him a long time.
Q.       What time did he come to his home on the night of Monday, Nov. 28, 1932?
A.       He came in after everyone had eaten supper. It was shortly after seven o'clock, and we went in the lavatory. He locked the door.
Q.       What took place in the lavatory?
A.       He stuck his hands into his pockets and pulled out a handful of silver and a watch and a ring and a five dollar bill and three one dollar bills and some other stuff.
Q.       What was said?
A.       He said that he had to cut her throat to keep her from identifying him.

Judge Stooksbury's lack of learning about evidence law surfaced again. You may recall his absurd concept of the attorney-client privilege reported in my June 2007 article on Eugene Blanchard's 1930 trial (the privilege protects only what a lawyer tells a client, not what a client tells a lawyer). In Louis Fain's trial he ruled that a lawyer cannot lead a witness on cross-examination! Here are transcript excerpts of defense lawyer R.A. Mynatt's cross of prosecution witness Lock Clark:

Q.       Nathan Clark is your brother?
A.       Yes, sir.
Q.       Is he indicted?
General Bibb: I object to that question as being leading.
Judge Stooksbury: I sustain the objection.
Q.       How many days did you work last week?
General Bibb: I object to that question as leading.
Judge Stooksbury: I sustain the objection.

Note that the last question on cross-examination is not even leading, as it does not suggest an answer. And know that, upon retirement from the bench in 1942, Judge Stooksbury volunteered to teach without salary at the UT Law Department. I wonder whether he taught the Evidence class?

The jury took 55 minutes to find Fain guilty and sentence him to death by electrocution. Chief Justice Grafton Green and his colleagues affirmed in an opinion read and filed on Saturday, Jan. 13, 1934.

On the eve of his execution Louis Fain confessed. He died on Monday, Feb. 26, 1934, at 5:22 a.m.

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, and Bickers LLP. He lectures for the Tennessee Law Institute, BAR/BRI Bar Review, Tennessee Judicial Conference, and UT College of Law.