The Deadly Love of Millard Lee, Part 4

Lila May Suttles was gone and her funeral was over.

Lila May Suttles’ gravestone. Strangely, her first name is spelled differently here than in the newspapers and public records.

Early the next morning, Millard was apprehended. “Young Lee was captured at 5 o’clock yesterday morning at Mableton, just as the party was about to give up the pursuit,” the Atlanta Constitution reported. “He surrendered without making a show of fight and no attempt at violence was made by those had been following him. He was brought to Atlanta…and lodged in Fulton County Jail.”

Millard’s only words at the time he was caught was that he loved Lila and he couldn’t help what had happened. “I have surrendered. Now  take me and hang me as quick as you can!” he added.

That he was caught was a relief to everyone but it could bring no real satisfaction because the crime itself was senseless. Reporters, attorneys, and policemen swarmed the jail while people at home waited for some news, some piece of information that would make sense of the tragedy.

John Lee hurried to Atlanta to see his desperado son. “I did not go to church yesterday morning for the purpose of killing her. It all came over me suddenly how hopeless my love for her was. I seemed to realize that she would never care for me. I could not bear the suspense longer and then I shot her.” He told his father he had thought of killing himself after he murdered Lila but he didn’t have the nerve.

Millard Lee

Millard was indicted for the murder on May 28. The Grand Jury indicted him quickly, saying they wanted no excuse for mob violence. The threat of lynching was a constant in highly emotional cases. Similar to the 1906 case of Ed Johnson I wrote about in Grievous Deeds, the justice system reacted by accelerating the process.

Millard’s case was scheduled for June 9. Lee’s attorneys knew the only possible defense they could make was insanity. Four physicians were sent to the jail to examine the dour inmate and Millard’s family said ever since he committed the crime, he had never been of sound mind.  But the defense would have to prove that Millard was of unsound mind when he committed the murder, not after the fact.

“It is said that Lee has acted wildly and strangely since he has been in the Tower, the Atlanta Constitution stated. “Several times he has pleaded with jail officials to kill him. He sticks to his original statement about why he committed the crime, stating in reply to all questions that he loved the girl and could not help it.”

The trial was delayed but on Monday, June 16, a formal plea of not guilty by reason of insanity was entered. This motion was ruled on two days later and Lee was determined not to be a lunatic. He would go on trial for his life Thursday, June 19.  “Lee takes the verdict in a very apathetic manner, bearing out lawyers assertions that he does not realize what is going on around him or the gravity of his position,” one newspaper commented.

Lee was quickly convicted but his attorneys promised to appeal the case to the Supreme Court in November.  Once again, the decision did not go Millard’s way. The high court convicted him. This was the end of the line for Millard, as he was being tried in the state courts. The Georgia Supreme Court sentenced him to hang on December 23.

The only possible way he would not hang was if the governor respited him and potentially commuted his sentence to life in prison or an insane asylum. Fortunately for Millard, approximately 30 minutes before he was to be led to the gallows, a brief message arrived from Governor Terrell, giving him an extra 30 days so he could be retried for lunacy.  The question of whether that would be permitted was eventually taken up by the state Supreme Court. While it was being argued, Millard was given a number of additional respites.

At last, the state’s high court agreed Millard could be retried for lunacy, on the grounds he was presently insane. He was tried again, for lunacy, in May. It was a year since he killed Miss Suttles. Expert witnesses pronounced him an imbecile of the second degree and swore he was insane and couldn’t be held responsible for his crimes.

Mr. and Mrs. Lee testified their son had always been queer and said they believed him to be unsound mind.  They said he frequently had spells of melancholia and he would frequently go off by himself and weep for apparently no cause. Millard sat in court, listening to what was said without any apparent concern. He occasionally looked at the witnesses or the judge.

His appearance in court was abnormal. Despite the stuffy Atlanta courtroom, Millard wore his coat buttoned up with the coat collar turned up about his neck.  “Millard Lee is on trial at Atlanta for his life,” the Buffalo News reported. “[He] obstinately refuses to take the stand in his own behalf or say a word to the jury.”

Yet once again, Millard was declared a sane man.

Go to Part 5 to read the end of the story.

One thought on “The Deadly Love of Millard Lee, Part 4

  1. Pingback: The Deadly Love of Millard Lee, Part 3 | old spirituals

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