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Letter To The Editor – Dec. 30, 2010

Sonny Long Remembered For His Many Kindnesses

To Readers of the Herald,

  First, I wanted to thank Betty Shearer and Editor David Howell for reprinting David Langford’s article of many years ago. For me it rekindled memories of friendships and many friends who came together to help another friend, James “Sonny” Long. The article labels Sonny as a convicted murderer which, technically is true. However, this was a case of grave misjustice. Sonny should have been acquitted because this was a case of self-defense. Many miracles happened in this case, and for that reason I have always thought God was affronted by this case, picked me out since I was a friend of Sonny’s and an attorney, and put me to work.

    The first miracle was that I even found out about Sonny’s plight. Right away David Fly, Bob Tyler, and I went to Memphis to see him. At that time I promised I would help him. I ordered the transcript, sent to two of  my friends who were experienced in criminal matters, John Farese and Sammy Smith, and asked them to review it. They both told me to forget it. Since it had already been to the Fifth Circuit there was nothing I could do. I decided to go ahead because I knew it would take two or three years to consummate the case and during that time Sonny would at least have hope. I had none. The case was filled with insurmountable difficulties where I should have been tossed out on my ear. However, I truly believe that God took his thumb and squashed those difficulties, allowing me to proceed on. I took a real chance asking the Fifth Circuit to remove Judge Cox from the case. That was unheard of. If they had not, both Sonny and I would have been toast. Fortunately the case was assigned to Judge Dan Russell, a kind, compassionate, and intelligent judge. He was unable to reverse the trial verdict, but he was able to order Sonny’s release—a great day.

  The fact that so many Water Valley friends came so far at considerable expense to testify on Sonny’s behalf speaks volumes about his character. In addition to those mentioned in the article three employees at the federal prison came to testify that Sonny should be released—quite a tribute. Also, Mrs. Cook, Mae Bell’s mother, Nellie Long, and my wife, Carolyn, testified. For thee years she and I drove to Memphis every two to three weeks with our daughter, Emily, to visit Sonny. She got to know him quite well and made an excellent witness. The only person there who I did not call to testify was Ann Cook, who lived on the coast and would also have made a super witness. I was saving her as the best for the last. However, I sensed Judge Russell was getting edgy, having heard enough. He had a number of cases behind us and was ready to move on. I did not want overkill to upset him. Thus I quit.

  Sonny was very intelligent. In the service he discovered a defect in the silo missile system which could have proved disastrous. He received a large reward for getting that defect fixed. He was also as honest as any person I ever knew, and very candid, sometimes to a fault. I must relate one funny story. The day Sonny was released we first went Paulette’s, a fine restaurant owned by my friend, George Fall. He treated us to a wonderful lunch. Then Sonny wanted to purchase some personal articles to take to Cookeville, where he was going to work for Pat Wallace. We went to Burlington Coat Factory, where Sonny picked up a lot of t-shirts and underwear. The nice young girl at the counter said, “My you are buying a lot of underwear.” Most people would have left that statement along, but Sonny replied, “That is because I just got out of prison and they don’t let you have these items in there.” The look of shock and fear on that girl’s face was something to see. She couldn’t wait on us fast enough and get us out of there! Carolyn and I have had many a laugh over that incident. Sonny spent his first Christmas with  me and spent many late hours rocking my youngest girl, Cayce, who had colic. After his first Christmas with  me he always sent me a box of Omaha steaks. There was a card which made me cry. It read, “A true friend walks in when others walk out.” He was the true friend, not me.

  I had interviewed many people on the coast when I first got involved, and they all thought highly of Sonny. If your car would not run, your dishwasher did not work, etc., Sonny would help fix it.

  He never complained about the circumstances. When he was dying of lung cancer—I could never get him to stop smoking—he told David Fly that he had had a good life when in truth his was harsher than any of us had. I am thankful that God allowed me to partially repay some of the  many kindnesses he did me while we were growing up. One stands out. I was about to be beaten to a pulp by the town bully when Sonny stepped between us and told him that he would have to go through him first. That ended that.

  Sonny does not need to be remembered as a convicted murderer. He needs to be remembered as one who unjustly lost three and one-half years of his life, but never complained.  

  /s/Joe D. Pegram

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