Recently hired to drive trucks for Winn-Dixie, Willie Edwards left the afternoon of January the 23, 1957, never to return home. Three months would pass before his body washed up on the shores of the Alabama River. Officials stated that deomposition made it impossible to determine the cause of death.
In 1976, then State Attorney General Bill Baxley re-opened the Edwards case. Four people were arrested and charged with Edward's murder. Sonny Kyle Livingston Jr., 38, Henry Alexander, 46, James York, 73 and Raymond Britt (Jr). Britt broke the long silence with his sworn affidavit (in exchange for immunity), dated February 20, 1976. In the statement to Attorney General Bill Baxley, Britt describes how on the night of January 23, 1957, he along with three other men beat and forced Edwards to jump off the Tyler-Goodwin Bridge into the Alabama River.
Alabama Judge Frank Embry dismissed the charges, even with Britt's sworn testimony because no cause of death was ever established. He concluded that "merely forcing a person to jump from a bridge does not naturally and probably lead to the death of such person. Edwards fell seven stories, 90 feet, from the bridge into the Alabama River below.
A Proven Injustice
Twenty-one years passed before Malinda Edwards made her plea to Montgomery District Attorney Ellen Brooks for justice in her father's case. Brooks responded by reopening the investigation. In late 1997, State Medical Examiner, Dr. James Lauridson acting on a request from Brooks, exhumed and re-examined Edwards' remains. Based on the re-examination of Edwards' remains using modern technology, Dr. Lauridson ruled the cause of Edwards' death to be homicide.
Brooks filed a motion with the court to have Edwards's death certificate reflect Dr. Lauridson's findings. Judge Charles Price ordered the Alabama Department of Vital Statistics to change Edwards' cause of death from unknown to drowning by homicide.
Dr. Lauridson's ruling and Judge Price's order cured the legal problem that caused Judge Embry to dismiss the case in 1976. Brooks took the case back before the County Grand Jury.
The Grand Jury concluded that Edwards was murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan, but didn't feel there was sufficient evidence for new indictments.
Brooks speaking for the column in the Montgomery Advertiser dated March 2, 1999 said that because most of the key witnesses were dead, it was difficult to prosecute the case. Britt recanted the involvement of Alexander, while both Livingston and York were dead at this time (note – Livingston's wife came forward in 1993 saying her husband confessed to the murder on his deathbed). The Grand Jury refused to return an indictment. Malinda Edwards, who was 5 years old when her father was murdered, remains hopeful that justice delayed doesn't become justice denied.
Suspects Bound In 1957 Slaying, Montgomery Advertiser, February 27, 1976