On Tuesday morning, October 13th, in a court room crowded with friends, with newspaper reporters and interested attorneys and curious citizens, Payne Boyd was given his freedom.
This was one of the most dramatic scenes that ever took place in the courts of West Virginia. Boyd, a negro, thirty-years old, had been in jail an entire year and was twice convicted of murder.
The case goes back seven years. In 1918, Cleveland Boyd, a negro, was arrested by Justice of the Peace Cook, in Mercer County, West Virginia. While on his way to the county jail, Boyd asked the justice and constable who were accompanying him, if he might stop at home and change his shoes. He came out of his house with a gun and fired, killing Mr. Cook. The constable, unarmed, fled and Boyd escaped.
About a year and a half ago, a negro was arrested in Norfolk, Virginia, as Cleveland Boyd, murderer of Justice Cook.
Boyd declared himself innocent but he was tried twice and pronounced guilty both times. Boyd's attorneys were persistent, however, and a change of venue brought the case to Cabell County, where the case was to have been tried for a third time.
Witnesses' testimony was so contradictory that it seemed as if Boyd's case was hopeless. Then Inspector Rose stepped into the case.
Until this time, Payne Boyd had tried to prove that he was not the Cleveland Boyd wanted for Justice Cook's murder. But his efforts were of no avail.
Preparations had been made for one of the most heated battles ever waged in West Virginia courts. But Prosecuting Attorney Via, with the Mercer County prosecutor, Ross, through the efforts of Inspector Rose, uncovered a new and positive clue to Boyd's identity. Rose had discovered Boyd's true identity by securing from the War Department the fingerprint record of Payne Boyd, who had served in the World War.
These finger prints were identical with the finger prints of Payne Boyd and proved once and for all that the man awaiting his third trial was not the murderer.
And so, in the midst of dramatic surroundings, Boyd was freed, the judge making a speech of apology to the man who had been held in jail for a whole year and twice convicted through a mistake in identity. After the proceedings, a collection was taken up for Boyd who was penniless after his year in prison.
To people who think that finger prints function only in apprehending and convicting guilty men, this case is a striking lesson. But for the fingerprint science and the efforts of a finger-print expert, Garfield Rose, Payne Boyd would today be suffering for a crime he did not commit.
1. "Garfield Rose Saves Innocent Man from Murderer's Death", Finger Print and Identification Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 8, February 1926, page 16.