Griffin, Alton 1998-07-02

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Alton Griffin, Lubbock County prosecutor, discusses his background, his career and changes in the legal system. He also discusses, at length, crime in Lubbock, its changes, and important trials. He includes an in depth discussion of bootlegging.

General Interview Information

Interviewee Name: Alton Griffin

Additional Parties Recorded:

Date: July 2 and 10, 1998

Location: Lubbock, Texas

Interviewer: Fred Allison

Length: 4 hours, 10 minutes


Tape 1, Side 1: Alton Griffin background, Born: Crowell Texas, Family, Graduated from Crowell High School (1944), Enlisted into U. S. Army (1945), Farming (c. 1930-40s), Farm life, Conflict with school, Crowell Texas (again), Born: 1926, Started school (1933), Foard County schools, Consolidation, Causes, Great Depression, Effect on farms, Increasing size, Diminishing farm population, Subsistence farming, Gardens, Livestock, Importance of land ownership, Grinding own flour, Alton Griffin (again), Father’s farm, Rented from owner in Minnesota, Crop prices, Plowing-up crops, Government inspectors, Cotton ‘choppers’, Pay, Locals who needed extra income, Pulling cotton, Pay, Hard work, Crowell Texas (again), Post World War II, Schools (again), Quality, Good reputation at Texas Tech University, Comparable to Lubbock High School, I. T. Graves superintendent, Career, Reputation, Teaching family, Entertainment, Schools, Athletics, Basketball, differences with today, Radio, late 1930s, Batteries, Great Depression (again), Alton Griffin perspective, Drought (1934-35), Dust storms, Grasshoppers, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Herbert Hoover, Popularity, Alton Griffin, World War II memories, Rationing, Radio news, Scary situations, General ignorance regarding real situation, Doolittle Raid (April 1942), Propaganda value, Pearl Harbor (December 7 1941).

Tape 1, Side 2: Alton Griffin (continued), World War II memories (continued), Pearl Harbor (continued), Misinformation about seriousness, U. S. propaganda, Military activity around Crowell, Vernon Texas, Wichita Falls Texas, Aircraft, Military service U. S. Army, Inducted March 1945, Horse cavalry, Armored cars, Moves around the U. S., Fort Knox Kentucky, Fort Ord California, Occupation duty in Germany, Views on the Atomic bomb, Occupation duty in Germany (again), Guarding freight trains, Nuremberg war crime trials, Nazi personalities on trial, Reactions, Description of courtroom, Executions, Response of German people, German people’s fear of Russians, Example, Comparison of U. S. and Russian soldiers’ behavior, Treatment of civilians, Guarding trains (again), Condition of German people, U. S. aid and assistance, Traveling to Italy, Off-duty time, U. S. soldiers got free pass on public, transportation, People’s reaction to G. I.s, Rapid promotions, Revisiting Europe later, Rome Italy, U. S. Army service (again), Occupation duty in Germany, War damage in Rome Italy, Devastated German cities, Heilbronn totally destroyed, Wurtzberg 92% destroyed, Nuremberg, Visiting Nazi rally site, Perspective on service, U. S. soldiers’ behavior.

Tape 2, Side 1: Alton Griffin (continued), U. S. Army service (continued), Occupation duty (continued), U. S. soldiers’ behavior (continued), Return to Crowell (December 1946), Start at Texas Tech (Fall 1947), Graduated (1951), Not involved in Korean War, Taking test at Reese Air Force Base, Interest in legal profession, Characteristics of trial lawyers, Before the public, Texas Tech in late 1940s, Little vegetation, Few automobiles, Students hitchhiked, Lining-up for rides, Friendly people, Texas A & M students, Going home, Selling Bibles, Alton Griffin (again), Law school University of Texas (1951), Class size, Attrition rate, Veterans, Teaching school Anton, Texas, Earning money for law school, Students’ attitudes compared to today, Finished law school, First job as Assistant District Attorney, Hired by Travis Shelton, Lawyers’ specializations, Background, Alton Griffin (again), Work in DA office, Murder trial of carnival worker, Murder rate in Lubbock, Overview of law career, Private practice since 1975, Prosecutor (1956-1978), District Attorney, Assistant County Attorney under Bill Gillespie (1957), Elected County Attorney (1960), District Attorney (1962-1969), Criminal District Attorney (1972-1979), Changes in criminal prosecution and trials, Bifurcated trials, Two-stage trial, Rights of the accused, Miranda decision, Example of Mrs. Fred Turner murder case (1962), Death penalty, James L. Marion defendant, Appeal to Supreme Court, Witherspoon case, Retroactive, No death penalty in mid-1960s, Trials in which death penalty assessed, None reversed because of procedural error.

Tape 2, Side 2: Alton Griffin (continued), Perspectives on death penalty, Appeals based on civil rights, Need for limits, Little effect on crime rate, Murder cases (1950-60s), Barroom brawls—murder or killing?, Murder at Texas Tech (1967), Benjamin Lach, Science building, ‘Haunted’ the building, Benjamin Lach’s background, Family, Suspected of another murder, Stake out, Chase, Trial conviction and sentencing, Description of victim’s body, Crime scene—water blood and salamanders, Jack Brown murder case, Shallowater Texas, Accused of killing parents, Trial, Defending attorneys, Travis Shelton, George Gilkerson, Adversarial feelings remain in courtroom, Differences in District Attorney County Attorney and Criminal, District Attorney’s jobs, Efficiency, Bootleg cases, Trials did not stop at 5 p. m., Changing work ethic, Lawyers’ offices open on Saturday morning, Societal shift in 1960s, Vietnam War, Civil Rights changes, ‘Me generation’, Community values, Alton Griffin (again), Lawyers that influenced him, Jim Milam, Travis Shelton, Judge Victor Lindsey, Ralph Brock, Judge Jim Denton Texas Supreme Court Justice, George Gilkerson, Anecdote concerning Judge Lindsey and Judge, Denton, Relationship with George Mahon, Characteristics, Helping friend get out of draft.

Tape 3, Side 1: Alton Griffin (continued), Relationship with George Mahon (continued), Friend and draft (continued), Misconception people have about politicians, Misconceptions about criminals, Reflection on handling of O. J. Simpson case, Poorly prosecuted, Defense, Defense lawyers, F. Lee Bailey, Lubbock judges, Victor Lindsey, Great ‘feel’ for the law, Byron Chappell, Knowledge of the law, Lubbock Bar Association, Changes in practicing law, Reflection on law career, Successful lawyers that got their start working for him, Dickey Griggs Austin Texas, Robert A. Junell now a state legislator, Troubling changes in how law practiced, Importance of paperwork, Victims’ rights movement, Personal feelings, Reflections on societal pressures on judiciary, Changes in crime, More violence, Law should prevail, Law should lead society, Judicial activism, Changes in societal view of law, Dangers, Advice for aspiring lawyers, Commitment most important, Gratitude for opportunity to practice law, Murder case involving boy with special needs, Apology of juror, Political involvement, Democratic Party, Societal shift in political views.

Tape 3, Side 2: Alton Griffin (continued), Political involvement (again), Voting Republican, Local offices no political identification, Conservative, Need for a ‘loyal opposition’, Meeting prominent politicians, John F. Kennedy, Charismatic, Lyndon B. Johnson, Intensity, George H. Mahon, Statesmanship, Not a ‘pork barrel politician’, Greatest contribution, Stature, Integrity, Lubbock before alcohol became legal, Boundaries of dry area.

Tape 4, Side 1: Alcohol in Lubbock County, historical, background, First outlawed (1910), Later developments, Bootlegging boomed after World War II, Local option, vice county-wide elections allowed (c. 1958-59), Description of large size dry area (again), Bootlegging, Lubbock County had most appeals cases to state courts, How bootleggers operated, Ordering booze, Juan Esaga largest Hispanic bootlegger, Operation in alley, Saturday nights, traffic lined up, Methods used by bootleggers to hide booze, Sophistication, Financial backers never known, Difficulty in prosecuting, City-wide raids, Example of raid in black section of town, Legal technicalities, Quantity that was legal, Defense for bootleggers, Anecdote about ‘Big Ed’ Wilkes, Raid in Queen City, Viola Hotel, Description of ‘lugs', Booze in every room, Description of Queen City (black part of Lubbock), Prostitution, In other areas too, High level of bootlegging, Prosecuting bootleggers provided lots of revenue for city, Sentences, The Strip, background, Became wet about 1960, Early days, ‘Christmas Rush’.

Tape 4, Side 2: Alcohol in Lubbock (continued), Bootlegging (continued), Lawyers involved in defense, Ed O’Conner, Byron Chappell, Roy Carpenter, Court costs and fees, Large number of cases, "Christmas Special", Trying cases expeditiously, Revenue for Lubbock County (again), Big business, Methods by which alcohol imported into dry area, Cars and trucks, Hiding places, Delivery boys, Lawyers defending (again), Releasing from jail, Background on cases establishing accused right to attorney, Escobedo and Miranda cases, Effects on procedures and questioning, Clubs and dance halls in Lubbock, Alcohol permissible, Technicalities in alcohol laws, Texas ‘Open Container’ laws, Proving drunkenness, Officers’ testimony, Juries reluctance to convict drunk drivers, Trials for drunk drivers, Lawyers informal agreements, Mutual trust among Lubbock lawyers, Changes, Large amount of booze imported, Cars and trucks (again), Comparison to drugs, Money involved.

Tape 5, Side 1: Alcohol in Lubbock (continued), Alcohol and drugs (continued), Differing levels of ability to addict, Alton Griffin, Involvement in drug cases, Marijuana, Movies that warned of dangers, Changing attitudes, Physical addiction, Popular perceptions, Current efforts at limiting tobacco, Reformist trends, Societal views, Reflections on law, Societal changes, Language between men and women, Profanity, Admonition of English teacher, Views on alcohol, Perspective on career (again), Personal characteristics.

Tape 5, Side 2: Blank

Range Dates: 1926-1998

Bulk Dates: 1950s-1960s

Access Information

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