Garner v. Ladner
On Christmas Day in 1987, Loyal Garner Jr., a 34-year-old truck driver from a small Louisiana town who had never been in trouble with the law, crossed the border into Texas to help a friend with car trouble. He was arrested on a traffic charge and taken to a county jail in Hemphill, Texas, where he was beaten by three lawmen. Garner died two days later in a Tyler, Texas, hospital. He left behind his wife of 14 years, six young children and his mother and father.
On January 19, 1988, the SPLC filed a federal civil action on behalf of the Garner family against the three lawmen, the local county government and the City of Hemphill. While the SPLC’s suit was pending, the three lawmen were tried and acquitted of state charges of violating Garner’s civil rights. Many observers at this trial, held in Hemphill, felt the proceedings were stacked in the lawmen’s favor.
After their acquittal, two of the lawmen filed a civil action against SPLC attorneys and the SPLC itself. The lawmen claimed that SPLC attorneys had conspired with two persons in Texas to frame them. A federal judge ruled that their suit was a transparent effort to interfere with the SPLC’s case on behalf of the Garner family, and he put the lawmen’s suit on hold.
SPLC investigators found key evidence against the lawmen that had been unavailable to the prosecutors in the Hemphill trial. On the eve of the SPLC’s civil trial, the three lawmen and the county settled. The City of Hemphill had settled its portion of the case earlier. The settlement ensured financial security for Garner’s widow, his children and his parents. But the three lawmen who beat him to death were still free.
Armed with SPLC evidence, prosecutors in Tyler, where Garner died, filed murder charges against the lawmen. At the trial, a doctor who treated Garner said the power of the blow that killed him had the same force as that needed to hit a center-field fly ball with a baseball bat. On May 3, 1990, an all-white jury found the three lawmen guilty of murder. Thomas Ladner, the 42-year-old former police chief of Hemphill, was sentenced to 28 years in prison. James Hyden, 35, a former sheriff’s deputy, was sentenced to 14 years. Billy Ray Horton, 59, also a former sheriff’s deputy, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.