Howard Bromley, 23, was shot three times in the back by Ira D. Hinton, a white storekeeper in Northumberland County, Virginia. According to reports, the shooting followed an argument incited by Hinton’s brother when he objected to Bromley placing his arm around his shoulder. The defense contended that Hinton grabbed his gun to frighten Bromley from the store before Bromley was accidently shot while the two wrestled for control of the weapon. James Tracy, a friend of Bromley’s who accompanied Bromley to the store, said that there had been no struggle and that the shopkeeper and Bromley were engaged in a friendly conversation that turned into an argument. Camright King, who was approaching the store as the shooting occurred, testified that Bromley fell forward after Hinton fired the shots from two or three feet behind.
Hinton was indicted by a Northumberland County grand jury that included African American jurors. He entered a plea of not guilty before an all-white jury when his trial opened on December 20, 1955. Four prospective African American jurors were excused from the jury after pleading that they had formed opinions of the case or that they had scruples against capital punishment.
Oliver W. Hill, civil rights pioneer and co-counsel in Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County – one of five cases consolidated into Brown v. Board of Education – assisted the Commonwealth’s prosecutor at trial. Hill, acting on behalf of the Bromley family, made the opening statement at trial. Virginia common law permits a private prosecutor to assist the public prosecutor in a criminal case. See Cantrell v. Commonwealth, 329 S.E.2d 22 (Va. 1985). Hill advised the jury that evidence would show that: (1) Bromley came into Hinton’s store and greeted Meade Hinton in a familiar manner, (2) that an argument ensued, (3) that Hinton grabbed a gun, ordered Bromley to leave the store immediately, and fired at him from point-blank range, and (4) that Hinton fired two more shots at Bromley as he was leaving the store. The all-white jury acquitted Hinton after deliberating for only 21 minutes. The prosecution argued that the location of the three bullets in Mr. Bromley’s back indicated that he was fleeing the store when he was shot and killed. The defense argued that the shooting was an accident.