This two year drama began on a county road near Rural Hill, Mississippi in 1910 with the brutal murder of an attractive young woman ready to start her adult life. It was about to culminate in a packed, sweltering courtroom in the small town of Winona; a courtroom where the fate of another young person was to be decided – freedom or death at the end of a noose. Through these two years, a whole county was divided. Feelings ran high and even families were torn between their support of the victim’s family and the belief in the innocence of a young man named Swinton Permenter.
The Sharp family never wavered in their belief in Swinton’s guilt. The Permenter family likewise rallied to their youngest son, resolute in their certainty of his innocence. These two years also saw the blatant murders of two men; murders that were almost certainly tied to the case- and murders in which no one was ever brought to justice. The killers of Ben Walker and Walter Permenter were never found, no one was ever indicted for either of these crimes and these tragic murders simply faded into history.
Both sides had presented their cases, evidence was produced, rebuttals made and lengthy summations presented. It was now all in the hands of a jury of twelve men. It was late afternoon before deliberations began and at 8:00 pm, the jury retired for the night without a verdict. The crowd, the press and the defendant would have to wait for morning. By 8:30 am the next day, the jury was ready to deliver their decision to a packed courtroom. They filed into the jury box and the judge asked if they had reached a verdict. The jury foreman replied, “Yes sir, we have.” The verdict was passed to the clerk as dead silence fell upon the crowded courtroom.
“We the jury, find the defendant NOT GUILTY.”
There was no outburst in the courtroom, no gasp of despair or relief, only a low, almost inaudible murmur. The defendant sat speechless as the judge thanked the jury, the attorneys and the local community. The foreman stood and thanked the sheriff and the court for the courtesy and kindness shown to the jury throughout the trial.
As the court was adjourned, the Permenter family rose and rushed to the jury to shake hands and thank them. Swinton’s Father spoke, “ Thank God, My poor boy is free! He never killed that girl.”.
In an action that would be considered unusual today, Swinton was shortly able to address the jury as they assembled one last time in the jury room. In the presence of his family, he was able to thank the twelve men for their kindness and his acquittal.
The Sharp family’s actions were decidedly different. Janie’s Father was quoted, “It’s a crying shame that such a result could have been reached. Nobody in the world but Permenter killed my daughter and if they were to bring in another man charged with the crime, I’d say nobody but Swinton Permenter murdered her.” Lee Sharp, Jannie's brother, warned about the danger of turning such a heartless brute loose in any community.
Regardless, Swinton Permenter was a free man. Due to the emotion of the Sharp family and friends, Swinton was guarded throughout that day until he left Winona that evening. His
destination was closely guarded; all that was disclosed – "headed to some point not known. "
The Sharp’s and Permenter’s returned to their homes in Rural Hill that evening by train. Some evidence suggests that both families took the same train. The Sharps were met at the McCool depot by a large crowd who expressed their sympathy due to the outcome of the case.
One of the most sensational trials in Mississippi history was over yet there was no resolution to Janie Sharp’s murder; no justice, no punishment, no sense of closure for her family or for the communities of Rural Hill, Louisville and Winston County. The trial may have been over, but the story was not.