Pity, Duty, and Evil: Bobby DeLaughter’s Plea for Justice

Bobby DeLaughter opens his closing statement with, “it is about an unarmed man…coming home to his family, his wife, three small children that were staying up,” to gain an instant emotional response from the jury (297-298). Immediately, he wanted to make the jury of The State of Mississippi v. Byron De La Beckwith feel what the Evers family felt as their husband and father died in their driveway. That is how he set up his closing argument, and he stuck with the idea behind that opening throughout the remainder of the argument. DeLaughter sought to appeal emotionally to the jury by giving them reason to pity a family who went through what the Evers family did. He tested their loyalty to Mississippi and their loyalty to society. In addition, he wanted to give the jury a reason to feel anger towards Beckwith. Using these appeals, he asked the jury to bring justice to the Evers family and to Mississippi.

DeLaughter continues in the opening lines of his closing argument describing how the Evers family felt in order to fully exploit the emotional angle of this case. For a child to come out to their family’s carport and see its father in a “puddle of blood” has to be one of the greatest evils ever brought upon any child (298). He focuses on the family at this point, not only to show the atrocity of the crime (a man shot in the back with his wife and children at home), but to show that Medgar Evers was a family man. Evers was no different from any other man. He had a family that he loved and supported. He was not some thief, rapist, or enemy of the state, but a man that wanted “some degree of equality for himself, his family, and his fellowman” (302). Medgar Evers had a wife and thee children. That is what DeLaughter wanted circulating through the minds of the jury throughout his closing statement and into the jury room for their decision. He wanted them to know that those children were “pleading over and over, ‘Daddy, Daddy, please get up’” because Evers was a family man (298). The prosecutor wanted to relate Evers to the jury, letting them know he was no different from any of them. Although he doesn’t directly talk about race, he covers the issue here by stating that since Evers had a wife and children he is no different than anyone sitting in that courtroom. By not explicitly saying that Evers was a black man, he was saying that Medgar Evers was a man, a human being, just like the rest of them, and he deserved justice.

DeLaughter sets in his arrangement of his closing statement the jury’s obligation, and later returns to it before wrapping up his speech. The jury already knows that “the court has given you [jury] several instructions. And this instruction here tells you what the case is about legally” (298). However, this device isn’t used simply to repeat what has already been said; it is used to appeal to their commitment to Mississippi, to society, and to humankind. Their responsibility is to look at “the evidence” and find Byron De La Beckwith guilty because it is their responsibility to provide justice (298).

Since they have this responsibility, it is their moral duty to society and to Mississippi to not only give justice to Medgar Evers and his family, but to deliver justice to this crime against society, its laws, and its beliefs. After stating to the jury “in effect, you are Mississippi,” DeLaughter asks, “what is Mississippi justice for this defendant’s hate-inspired assassination; assassination of a man that just wanted to be free and equal” to further show that this was a crime against society (302). By murdering Medgar Evers and being a free man for the following thirty years, he killed a part of what America is, of what Mississippi is, and what justice is. It is the jury’s responsibility to give justice to the society they are representing. If not, they are also destroying the moral fabric that holds America together. Without justice, the “gaping wound laid open on society” will never heal (302). It is the responsibility of the twelve jurors to begin the healing process, otherwise that wound will continue to “fester and fester and fester” (302). DeLaughter makes use of the wound comparison to inform the jury that they are the ones who must apply “that soothing balm…on the wounds inflicted on society” in order to begin this process of healing (302).

After stating that Evers was a family man, who was murdered with his family at home and that it is the duty of the jury to pronounce justice, DeLaughter sought to fill the jury with anger and hatred towards Beckwith by vilifying him. If one is a part of “civilized society” then they must “be sickened by” this crime (298). At this point, he places Beckwith below human beings in the hierarchy of society. Byron De La Beckwith is evil, and the worst kind of evil, according to the prosecutor’s message. “Murder by ambush is the most vile, savage, reprehensible type of murder,” and only a man that is pure evil can inflict that act upon another human being (298). DeLaughter wanted nothing other than anger from the jury towards the man who can commit such an act.

Further vilifying Beckwith, the attorney states that “whatsoever a man thinks in his heart, so shall he become” (299). If a man believes one thing, and if that thing is evil, he will become evil. He will be the embodiment of evil; “that’s exactly what he [Beckwith] became” (299). He is evil, and he has become so because he believes in evil. A man, who is evil, does not belong in society. He does not belong in this society if he can kill a man who simply wanted “to go in a department store, to vote, and for your children to get an education in a decent school” (302). DeLaughter is telling the jury that they should feel anger, they should feel hatred, and they should want no more than to see justice served to a man who can commit such an act.

Bobby DeLaughter gave a powerful closing argument in the case of The State of Mississippi v. Byron De La Beckwith. He sought to arouse every emotion he could in his speech to the jury. He related Medgar Evers to the members of the jury as a family man, hoping to bring forth some amount of pity for the slain man and his family. He also carefully noted to the jury, on several occasions throughout the argument, that it was their duty to the Evers family, Mississippi, and society to bring forth justice. Then, DeLaughter attacked the character of Beckwith, by arguing that he was the worst kind of man, one who is evil. Using these appeals to arouse pity for the family, loyalty to society and its laws, and anger towards Beckwith, he effectively left the jury with what he prepared to do, which was that the only way to serve justice was to find Byron De La Beckwith guilty of the murder of Medgar Evers. Without justice, society cannot be whole and its justice system cannot function.  

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