The Jerry Newson Case was a sensation in Oakland in the late 1940s and early 1950s. On October 22, 1949, white pharmacist Robert "Doc" Savage and Marjorie Ruth Wilson (married to a cousin of later mayor Lionel Wilson) were shot "execution style" in the Rose-Waterman Drug Store at 7th and Adeline. 2 After some investigation, the police settled on 18-year-old Jerry Newson as the most likely suspect. Newson admitted to robbing the Harbor Homes management office 10 days before, and to having been in the drugstore that evening. After a string of questionable evidence (including falsified ballistics info) and use of a lie detector, police said Newson had confessed, and he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Three trials later and appeals to the State Supreme Court, the murder charges were finally dropped. Newson was represented by civil rights lawyer Robert Treuhaft, husband of Jessica Mitford.
According to @leftinthebay on Instagram, Newson was still forced to serve a 15-year sentence for the armed robbery, when a more typical sentence was 2-3 years. The Jerry Newson Story says it was a 5 to 15 year mandatory sentence, 3 but regardless, 15 years was disproportionate to his crime.
The case gained some notoriety because when the local NAACP was asked to help, they told Treuhaft, "we don't defend murderers." 1
Newson was born in Louisiana in 1931. After his parents died, he came to live with his aunt and uncle in Oakland in 1944. He dropped out of school and leased a shoe shine stand at 11th and Broadway.
Links and References
- Left-Wing Political Activist and Progressive Leader in the Berkeley Co-Op interview on calisphere
- Bandits Execute 2 In $600 Robbery Oakland Tribune October 24, 1949
The Jerry Newson Story by Buddy Green and Steve Murdock, 1950
online version at Hathitrust.org
- “We Don’t Defend Murderers”: The Case of Jerry Newson on usprisonculture.com
- People v. Newson on justia.com