William Person

Background

William Joe Person was killed on June 13, 1959 by one Roger Earl Williams, a farmer, who shot Person in the back.  Person was twenty-eight years old.  Williams was tried and convicted for the slaying and received a suspended sentence. According to local reports, Williams asked Person, who at the time was at work at the Cooley store, to work on his farm for the day, and Person agreed to work until dinner. After making this arrangement, Williams left Person and promised to pick him up. Once Williams left the store, Person told his brother, Ralph,  that if Williams returned to the store he would  run away from him, perhaps because he did not want to work for Williams. About forty minutes later, Williams came back to the Cooley store to get Person. Person immediately began to run across the road and into a cornfield.  Williams watched Person running,  reached into his glove department, and then shot Person, who was approximately 400 feet away, in the back. Williams told the police that he was “horse playing” when he shot Person, and that Person was “one of my best friends.” Person’s brother, Ralph, who witnessed the slaying of his brother, contradicted Williams’ account.  He stated at the time that Williams shot his brother, Joe Person, because the victim refused to work for him. In a 2011 interview with CRRJ, Ralph Persons confirmed that his brother was shot in the back without provocation because he refused to work for the assailant.

Legal Status

Initially, a magistrate cleared Williams and released him without charge. However, on July 13, 1959, a Wake County grand jury later indicted him for manslaughter. On August 25, 1959, Williams entered a plea of Nolo Contendere.  A trial jury convicted Williams, August 17, 1959, and the judge imposed a three-to-five year suspended sentence.  The judge also ordered Williams: (1) to “remain of good behavior and law abiding,” and (2) to pay Person’s wife Rosa Mae Person, and his four children $ 2,750.

Rose Mae Person filed a civil suit against Williams, alleging that he willfully and malicious, or negligently shot and killed her husband. It is unclear when Rose Mae Person brought her lawsuit, but it appears she dropped it after the criminal trial judge ordered Williams to pay her $2,750.