During the summer of 1970, James Ferguson was appointed as a "private prosecutor" to assist in the murder trial against Robert and Larry Teel, who killed Henry Marrow, a 23-year-old black veteran in Oxford, North Carolina. In the wake of the killing of Marrow, Oxford was engulfed in a conflagration of violence and unrest. Despite the remarkable efforts by the young Mr. Ferguson, whose legal prowess was captured in the highly acclaimed book about the incident, Blood Done Sign My Name, by Timothy Tyson, the all-white jury acquitted the Teels.
Excerpts from the book, which was published in 2004:
At the prosecution's table, William Burgwyn was flanked by Charles White, an attorney from his office, and James E. Ferguson, a black attorney from Charlotte and one of the leading civil rights lawyers in the state. Burgwyn, through clearly an "establishment" figure in North Carolina, was regarded as extremely able and completely honest. And Ferguson was a very gifted attorney with a strong track record. "Ferguson had already played a pivotal role in the civil right movement in North Carolina," historian David Cecelski writes. "He had led or been involved in most of the civil rights lawsuits arising in eastern North Carolina; he had been successful enough to have the Ku Klux Klan target him for assassination." His new partner, Julius Chambers, narrowly escaped death in 1965 when his car was bombed in New Bern.
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James Ferguson gave a striking and memorable summation for the prosecution that Friday afternoon. . . . "And now, after the state has proven beyond any doubt that this killing was by no stretch of the imagination an act of self-defense," continued James Ferguson, "they have come up with this story of an 'accidental shooting.' It was an accident, they tell you now." He looked up and down the jury once more, and then delivered the hook. "I guess we might say this is what you'd call accidental self-defense. I don't know about y'all, but I have never heard of 'accidental self-defense,' myself. This may be the first instance of 'accidental self-defense' in recorded history." . . . "If you turn these men loose," Ferguson told the jury, "you may as well hang a wreath on the courthouse door on your way out, because justice is dead in Granville County."