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|“||I want to tell you a story. I'm going to ask you all to close your eyes while I tell you the story. I want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to yourselves. Go ahead. Close your eyes, please. This is a story about a little girl walking home from the grocery store one sunny afternoon. I want you to picture this little girl. Suddenly a truck races up. Two men jump out and grab her. They drag her into a nearby field and they tie her up and they rip her clothes from her body. Now they climb on. First one, then the other, raping her, shattering everything innocent and pure with a vicious thrust in a fog of drunken breath and sweat. And when they're done, after they've killed her tiny womb, murdered any chance for her to have children, to have life beyond her own, they decide to use her for target practice. They start throwing full beer cans at her. They throw them so hard that it tears the flesh all the way to her bones. Then they urinate on her. Now comes the hanging. They have a rope. They tie a noose. Imagine the noose going tight around her neck and with a sudden blinding jerk she's pulled into the air and her feet and legs go kicking. They don't find the ground. The hanging branch isn't strong enough. It snaps and she falls back to the earth. So they pick her up, throw her in the back of the truck and drive out to Foggy Creek Bridge. Pitch her over the edge. And she drops some thirty feet down to the creek bottom below. Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood, left to die. Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she's white.||„|
- A summary of what Billy Ray Cobb and James Willard did to Tonya.
Billy Ray Cobb and James Willard were the secondary antagonist of the 1996 film A Time To Kill.
Willard was portrayed by Doug Hutchison - who also portrayed Percy Wetmore in The Green Mile - and Billy Ray by Nicky Katt.
Billy Ray Cobb and Pete Willard were born in Canton, Mississippi, growing up in rural white families. Cobb was the son of Cora Mae Cobb and the older brother of Freddie Lee Cobb.
Both were virulent racists, and spent much of their time committing hateful acts against the African-American community. In 1984, the two of them drunkenly drove around in their pickup truck, throwing beer bottles at black families, and they later came across the ten-year-old Tonya Hailey walking home from the local store with bags of groceries.
Cobb threw a beer bottle at Tonya's head, and the two men proceeded to violently rape her before attempting to lynch her.
They failed and were later arrested by Sheriff Ozzie Walls and his men in a nearby white bar. Whereas Willard showed remorse for his crime, Cobb showed no remorse and seemed proud of his abominable action.
After it became likely the two men would be acquitted by an all-white jury, the girl's father Carl Lee Hailey entered the courthouse with an M16 and opened fire on Willard and Cobb as they were being escorted up the courthouse steps by policeman Dwayne Looney. Willard and Cobb were killed, while Looney was wounded by a ricocheting bullet.
The rape and subsequent revenge killing gained national media attention. The Ku Klux Klan began to organize in the area. Freddie Lee Cobb, the brother of Billy Ray, called Brigance and his family with death threats and organised the formation of the Klan.
The trial began and the Klan had a member inside the sheriff's department who fed them information on Carl Lee's white lawyer, Jake Brigance, and the trial. Brigance sent his wife and daughter away while the trial continued.
As the trial began, the KKK marched down Canton's streets and met a large group of black protesters at the courthouse. Chaos ensued outside the courthouse as the police lost control of the crowd. The jury secretly discussed the case going against the judge's instructions. All but one leaned towards a guilty verdict. The prosecutor, Rufus Buckley, presented Cobb and Willard as sympathetic victims of an out-of-control vigilante, and even cast doubt on their guilt.
Brigance went to see Carl Lee in his jail cell and advisesd accepting a lesser guilty plea. Carl Lee refused and rejected Brigance's notions of race and justice, noting that although Brigance considers himself a "friend" to Carl Lee, Brigance never visited his home and "our kids will never play together." Carl Lee tells Brigance that he chose Brigance to be his attorney because Brigance is in fact his "enemy", as Brigance is white and was thus raised amid the same racial prejudices harbored by the jury members.
Brigance tells the jury to listen to a story. He describes, in painful detail, the rape of a young 10-year-old girl, mirroring the story of Tonya's rape.
This challenged the very nature of the trial itself, that the actions of Hailey would not have been called to question before the court of law had the victim been white.
The argument Brigance then makes is that if the jury can be compelled to spare the life of a white man for a vengeful murder, then they must be able to do the same for a black man. An African-American child ran out of the courthouse and screamed, "he's innocent!" Jubilation ensues amongst the supporters outside. The KKK, enraged, become violent again. Walls arrested Freddie Lee, as well as his own racist deputy.