Bob White

Background

Bob White was a plantation worker who lived in Houston, Texas with his girlfriend and later wife, Ruby Lee White. At his mother’s request, White traveled to Livingston, Texas to help her pick cotton. One night in August 1937, Ruby Cochran, a white woman, stated that she had been raped in her home. The next day, Bob White, along with 15-16 other black men were called from the cotton field and detained by the Cochran brothers and the sheriff, acting without warrants.

The victim of the rape stated that her attacker “was barefooted, that he had a very offensive breath, and was undoubtedly a negro.” The sheriff lined up the black men and had them speak a few words, as the Cochran could not provide any identifying information. When Bob White recited the selected words, Cochran stated that she was certain that it was his voice that threatened her in the dark.

White was detained for six or seven days. Texas Rangers handcuffed him, took him from the jail and beat him. After a week of such beatings, the prosecutor asked Bob White whether he was ready to confess. Bob White began to cry as he signed the alleged confession. At the time the confession was signed, Bob White did not have a lawyer, no charges had been filed against him, and he was forbidden to communicate with family or friends.

Legal Status

First Trial: Polk County, 1937
On the day of Bob White’s trial, angered white citizens prepared to take the law into their own hands surrounded the courthouse. Bob White was convicted of rape and sentenced to death by electrocution. White appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and that court reversed on the grounds that the prosecutor’s argument was prejudicial and Bob White had not been given a fair trial. The Texas court White’s conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.

Second Trial: Montgomery County, 1939
The defense lawyer, J. P. Rogers filed a motion for a change of venue for Bob White’s second trial from Livingston, Polk County to Conroe, Montgomery County. Conroe, reputedly a less prejudiced town, was approximately 50 miles from Livingston. The Montgomery County jurors once again convicted Bob White of rape and sentenced him to death. White once again appealed the judgment to the Texas Criminal Court of Appeal on the grounds that blacks were unconstitutionally excluded from the jury venire. After the Texas appellate court affirmed the second conviction, White appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which reversed on the grounds that the confession was coerced.

Third Trial: Montgomery County, 1941
White’s case was set for trial a third time in Montgomery. On the first day of the third trial, Ruby Cochran’s husband, W.S. “Dude” Cochran,” approached Bob White in the courtroom and shot him in the back of the head. The bullet crashed into his brain from just behind his right ear. Bob White slumped over sideways, his blood spilling all over on the courtroom floor, and he was dead before his body fell from of the chair. The crowd in the courtroom shook Cochran’s hand after he fired the deadly shot.

Trial of W. S. Cochran
Cochran was charged with murder and released on $500 bail. At trial, the prosecutor asked the jury to acquit him. After deliberating for only two minutes, Cochran was acquitted and walked away from the courtroom a free man.