In a musty Conroe law office one warm afternoon last April, a frail retired auto mechanic sat in front of a whirring video camera.
As an air conditioner rumbled in the background, sixty-year-old Edward Glenn Payne, Sr., lifted to his throat a small cylindrical device called an artificial electrolarynx.
Brandley was arrested just six days after he led police to the body of a sixteen-year-old white girl — nude except for her sweat socks — that a white janitor searching with him had found in a prop loft above the Conroe High auditorium.
Payne promptly told reporters he was taking it all back. Clarence Lee Brandley is a troubling story with dark undercurrents of race, class, and power in a small East Texas town — a place more Southern than Texan, where Byzantine political corruption seems endemic.
The facts Payne related were pieces of a puzzle, crucial pieces that might exonerate a black man convicted of the white girl’s murder. And what he had to say could make life difficult for his son-in-law, who had been a central witness for the prosecution.Ten days earlier Payne had even been beaten by two men, one of whom had warned him to “keep your goddam mouth shut.” Why was he speaking out?The machine compensates for the larynx Payne lost to cancer.In words so eerily mechanical that they could have been generated by a computer with an East Texas twang, Payne told of a conversation he had with his son-in-law one weekend seven years ago after a sixteen-year-old girl had been murdered at Conroe High School.“Well, I want to do what’s right to the best of my ability, because I’m not going to be here long,” Payne rasped. And I’d like to give a man back his life that’s way younger than I am.” In early June Payne’s son-in-law, Gary Michael Acreman, completed a short jail term on unrelated charges and returned to Payne’s daughter Cynthia and their two children. “They said it was only being done to help the Negro,” he said.
The couple lives next door to Payne in a trailer home in an isolated area near Grangerland, about ten miles outside Conroe. “But all the time they were trying to put someone else’s neck in the noose.” He glanced over at his two grandchildren, ages five and seven.