A Sordid Subterranean Story: That Dusky Hospital on De Villiers St (Part 3)

On Friday 23 September 1927, The Case of Viola Edwards and Tart had gone to trial.

The Pensacola News Journal  on this day had a column headline that read
Tart and Viola Edwards Plead “Not Guilty to Charges
State to call Three more Witnesses This Morning.

“The parade of witnesses began yesterday in the Tart-Edwards case.  Nine persons head marched across the picture being unfolded in court of record when Judge C. Moreno Jones, presiding adjourned court at 6 o’clock until 10 AM today.

“Pleading ‘not guilty’ to charges of manslaughter, E. E. Tart, White, and Viola Edwards,negro nurse, the defendants, announced themselves ready for trial when arraigned yesterday morning (September 22). The charges against the two grew out of the death of  Miss Dorothy Friedrichsen, 27 years old, at the Viola Edwards Hospital on August 5, last, as a result, the state alleges of an Illegal operation.”

Dr. Nobles the first witness at the afternoon session. Under direct examination by solicitor Fisher testified in part that: “he performed an autopsy upon the body a young woman at Pou Funeral parlor on August 8. Death in his opinion was caused the puncture of a vital organ of the anatomy this puncture having been caused by the insertion of some foreign substance and the resultant peritonitis.”

He went into elaborate details as to what would be the result of an operation such as the state charged was performed upon Miss Friedrichsen.

Under cross examination by Mr. Edrehl, Dr. Noble stated that the insertion of the Trocar by the embalmer might have punctured the anatomical organ.

“Further cross examination by  Mr. Kehoe, defense counsel for Mr. Tart, the physician stated that he could not be positive as to the cause of the young woman’s death. He could only give his opinion based on his examination and his experience in medical practice. He termed the alleged operation upon the young woman ‘a bad job,’ saying it had either been performed by unskilled person or if perform by a skilled person a serious mistake was made.   He declared that if a skilled physician were to perform such an operation and puncture vital organ, he would immediately perform a major operation and correct the mistake made in the abortive operation.”

After Dr. Nobles’ testimony, There were a number of other witnesses called to testify including Mrs Rebecca Friederichsen, Dorothy’s step-mother, Dr, W.C. Payne, who told Miss Friedrichsen in July that she had been pregnant for about four months, Gavin McMillian, “an employee of Pou Funeral parlor, Coroner Nee.  However, when E. C.  Moon took the stand, “a ripple of excitement went through the courtroom.”

“The solicitor asked Moon if he knew if he had seen E. E. Tart before.  Defense counsel Kehoe was on his feet instantly when Moon was asked if he picked out Tart at the corners inquest. His objection was overruled. There is several questions about Tart going in April or May of this year and asking him to perform examination of a white girl.”

The witness testified that Tart did come to his office and ask him to make an examination of a girl and ‘get her alright.’ I told him that I did not do such work, Moon stated. Then Tart asked him, the witness said,  if he knew of anyone who would perform such an operation.  Moon said he referred him to Viola Edwards hospital. An objection by Mr. Edrehl (Viola Edwards solicitor) was overruled before the witness could  answer.

Continuing, the witness said in part: “I next saw Mr. Tart on May 10 when I was call by Viola Edwards to come to the Viola Edwards hospital.  Mr. Tart, Viola Edwards and a white lady really operating room of the hospital. The man asked me to make an examination of the lady to see if she was pregnant. I made a visual examination I gave him my opinion that the lady was not impregnated.”

Moon testify that he did not see a white man at the Viola Edwards Hospital during the week of August 1-5 when Miss Friedrichsen was a patient there.

On Saturday September 24, 1927,  The Pensacola News Journal headline read:
Jurors Deliberate Ninety Minutes to Decide on Verdict.
Defense Gives Case to Jury Without Testimony.
Fisher, in Argument, Calls Case “Sordid Story.”

Solicitor for the state, William Fisher, final arguments stated, “The state has unfolded before you, chapter by chapter, this sordid subterranean story that was going on up there while you and I we’re going about our daily tasks.  The story came to light when Almighty God took a hand in the drama being enacted in that dusky hospital on DeVillers Street.”

The defense attorney, Mr. Edrehl, in closing arguments stated “all of the states evidence was purely circumstantial. The state calls viola Edwards hospital a Negro Hospital, but I submit that there have been White patients there.  He ridiculed the testimony of the states witness, Dr. Moon, and referred to the witness as a ‘liar” the states case is laughable declared Dr. Edrehl.

The attorney, Mr. Kehoe, for Mr. Tart, declared “the evidence against Mr. Tart was purely ‘suspicion.’”  He asserted that Mr. Tart was “unjustly accused.”  He also told the jury he believed that the witnesses told the truth with the exception of Dr. Moon.

Amazingly, it took the all white jury just ninety minutes to find Eugene W. Tart, prominent Pensacola businessman and church official, and Viola Edwards, negro operator of the hospital, [to be] acquitted in court of record of charges preferred against them in connection with the death of Miss Dorothy Friedrichsen, which the state alleged resulted from an illegal operation. In a motion by defense counsel for a directed verdict of not guilty, had been denied earlier in the day.”

After the not guilty judgement was announced, clapping could be heard throughout the court signaling approval of the verdict.  Judge C. Moon had to call for order three or four times before the courtroom quieted down so he could continue his questioning of the jury.  Afterwards the Judge informed the two defendants that they were free to go.

The not guilty verdict by an all white jury incensed Pensacola’s white community and enraged the community even further when it was learned of the black community’s joyful response to the verdict. Weeks following the verdict, the Sunday pulpits were awash with condemnations for the jury’s attack upon the betrayal and sensibilities of the white community by finding the two not guilty.

With all the vitriol  thrown at Miss Edwards and Mr. Tart, the prosecutor William Fisher decided on Friday 21 October,  to draw up a second criminal complaint, charging the two with manslaughter in the death of Miss Friedrichsen unborn child.

Continue unto part 4
Return to part 2
Return to part 1

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