Good Kids Bad City
Kyle Swenson
Contributed by Greta Venegas

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Chapter 4
Summary

In this chapter, Swenson is narrating the three boys’ trial and convictions. The author begins by accounting Ed Vernon’s testimony in court. According to the then-twelve-year-old witness, he claimed to have seen Rickey shoot Mr. Frank, and Ronnie subsequently throw a liquid in his face. Furthermore, while Wiley was in the getaway car, they even waved to each other as Ed walked past the car. Swenson describes Wiley, at twenty-one years old, as having been a smart, well-read young man. Unlike his younger brother and friend, who were still teenagers, he understood he was up against an extremely complicated and dangerous issue. His wide reading had exposed him to concepts such as racism and victimization. 

Another witness, Charles Loper — an alcoholic who lived near the Robinsons’ store, said he heard the shots and saw a man grab the briefcase from Mr. Frank, but he could not identify the attackers. Anna Robinson, the other key witness — but still frail as a result of the gunshot wound sustained in the attack, claimed she saw two men attack Mr. Frank but could not positively identify them. During Rickey’s trial, she mentioned as having known Rickey for almost eighteen years and could have identified him right away if he was one of the assailants. Similarly, Karen Smith, the girl who was returning soda bottles when Mr. Franks was attacked, said that the three defendants were not the assailants as she had walked past the would-be attackers outside the store just before Mr. Franks walked out. Swenson mentions that Smith had known both Bridgeman brothers and Rickey Jackson for a long time, and had even shared a class with Ronnie at elementary school. The prosecutors used these facts to argue that she was probably defending her friends.

The defense attorneys pointed out various inconsistencies in Ed’s testimony with the hope that the jury would deem it insufficient or unreliable. However, on August 12, 1975, the jury found Wiley guilty; within a week, Rickey’s jury delivered the same verdict. On September 27, 1975, Ronnie was also found guilty. The three young men were sentenced to death by electrocution.

Analysis

It is clear that Ronnie, Rickey, and Wiley underwent an unfair trial. As Swenson posits, the judge and the jury should have demanded more evidence before pinning the murder on the three young defendants, a conviction based solely on the evidence of a twelve-year-old boy. Despite two witnesses asserting that they had known the defendants and would have identified them had they been the assailants, the jury proceeded to convict them against better judgement. This is in spite of the defense attorney’s efforts to prove the unreliable nature of Ed’s inconsistent account. Another key witness, Karen Smith, had walked past the assailants as she was returning soda bottles to the Robinsons’ store just prior to the attack, and confirmed that she could identify the real assailants; but her account was not taken into consideration.

Swenson narrates Wiley’s thoughts during the trials, showing that he was well aware of the greater challenge they had found themselves in. Swenson establishes that Wiley was well read and clearly understood the concepts of racism and victimization that were at play.

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