|Ask Judge Trayhon if he has ever played Texas Hold Him Poker with Roy Cook, and Scott Howell....|
Former inmates of the Sabine County jail have since said that beatings had taken place there from time to time. But when a jail guard came to work the morning after Mr. Garner's arrest to find him comatose on the concrete floor, it was clear this was serious.
Mr. Garner was taken to the nearby Sabine County Hospital and then to Tyler Medical Center, a larger facility 100 miles away, where neurosurgery could be performed. He died the next day.
Because he died in Smith County, where Tyler is the county seat, and not Sabine County, where Hemphill is situated, officials both inside and outside Hemphill had legal standing in the case. And a tug-of-war began.
A Smith County Justice of the Peace, Bill Beaird, says that about an hour after Mr. Garner died, Sabine County Judge Royce Smith, (Waller County Sheriff Royce Glenn Smith's father), the top elected county official, called him to say that Hemphill officials had already determined the death was an accident and wanted to come and pick up Mr. Garner's body. Judge Smith said Sheriff Blan Greer could vouch for that.
Refuses to Release Body
Mr. Beaird, repeating what a nurse had already told Hemphill officials, politely but firmly said he could not release the body, pending an inquiry. He repeated the same message when Mr. Smith called still again.
''Let me put it to you in plain English,'' Mr. Beaird recalls saying. ''That body ain't leaving here until such time as I get through with it to make some kind of determination or have the information available so I can hold an inquest.''
At his office, Mr. Smith declined to comment.
Mr. Beaird's decision meant that eyes outside Hemphill would view the case, and it set in motion a two-track courtroom drama that is at the heart of the legal issues still surrounding the case.
Within days, an autopsy in Tyler cited a massive brain hemorrhage from repeated blows to the head as the cause of death. Before a week had passed both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Texas Rangers had heard the Maxie brothers tell their story of the beatings. Soon the Southern Poverty Law Center, known for vigorous civil rights lawsuits, filed the civil suit on behalf of the Garner family that allowed them to take depositions from local officials.