published Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Novel based on 1922 Walker County slaying


by Andy Johns
Audio clip

Joy Mahan

A Catoosa County author has taken a branch from her family tree to put a new spin on an 88-year-old shooting death mystery running through Walker, Catoosa and Hamilton counties.

Marnie Pehrson’s “An Uncertain Justice” looks at the March 1922 slaying of Deputy Sheriff Joe Morton, the hasty trial and the agonizing execution of one of his killers that changed the way Georgia executed its prisoners.

“I think it’s important to preserve their story,” Ms. Pehrson said.

  • photo
    Staff photo by Danielle Moore/Chattanooga Times Free Press Marnie Pehrson, author of "An Uncertain Justice," a historical fiction about the last legal hanging in Georgia, poses for a portrait in front of the LaFayette Courthouse where sections of her book are set. Mrs. Pehrson based the book on the murder of her second great-grandfather, a sheriff who was shot and killed by two brothers.

The novel, released earlier this year, is built around the facts of the case and the lives of those involved. Ms. Pehrson said she stumbled upon the story in a family history book. The slain deputy was her great-great grandfather.

Much of the book’s plot revolves around the trial and conviction of two brothers and witnesses’ accounts of the killing. Through her research, Ms. Pehrson said she came to believe that the brother who was hanged — and took 11 minutes to die — was not the trigger man.

For the story, she fabricated only three characters, including a newspaper reporter who is based on media coverage of the event.

“It’s as accurate as I can get,” she said.

The author said the book, her 20th, has stirred interest locally because many people in Walker County as well as in Daisy, Tenn., knew or are related to those involved.

“It’s their people,” she said. “It’s their culture.”

Dr. David Boyle, president of the Walker County Historical Society, said the book brings to light several cultural issues facing the region at the time.

“In 1922, the War Between the States was still within the memory of a lot of people,” he said. “Walker County was very heavily split between the Union and the Confederacy.”

Ms. Pehrson recently spoke to both Mr. Boyles’ group and the Catoosa County Historical Society.

Joy Mahan, program chairman for the Catoosa County society, said she was impressed by the level of factual information that the author poured into the novel.

“She did a lot of research,” Mrs. Mahan said. “She didn’t just pull the facts out of thin air.”

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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