Great Cross Examination-Gregory Peck

This post features Gregory Peck, in To Kill A Mockingbird. This is the cross examination of Mayella Violet Ewell who has perjured herself on direct examination by maintaining she was raped by Tom Robinson.  As we often see, the movie version is shorter  then the book version (Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird). Nonetheless, in both it is apparent the movie director and Harper Lee studied cross examination by reading  Francis Wellman, The Art of Cross Examination (1903)(the definitive work on Cross Examination).

In Chapter IV Wellman discusses Cross Examination Of The Perjured Witness. Wellman points out when witnesses of low intelligence (like Mayella Ewell) give false testimony they usually display “in the voice, in a certain vacant expression of the eyes, [and] in a nervous twisting in the witness chair….” We see these traits in the movie clip.

Wellman continues his chapter by covering techniques to use on the unsophisticated lying witness. “Try taking the witness to the middle of the story then jump… to the beginning then to the end.” This works because the witness has “no facts with which to associate the wording of her story.” She can “only call to mind as a whole rather then detachments.”

Then Wellman teaches “[d]raw attention to facts dissociated from the main story as told. [S]he will be entirely unprepared.” (This is seen in the clip when Peck demonstrates Tom’s lame left arm). Then, like Gregpry Peck in our film clip, return to the facts you have called to her attention (Tom’s lame left arm) and ask her the same question again (how did the rape take place given prior testimony).

As we learn from  Wellman  she cannot invent answers as fast as the questions.”[S]he will…become confused and from that time be at your mercy.” Then Wellman says let her go as soon as you have made it clear her testimony is not mistaken but lying.

As we see in the clip, and as predicted by Wellman, Mayella Ewell, is at the mercy of Atticus Finch. She cracks as Atticus and everyone else watches. This is the ultimate cross examination of a perjured witness.

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