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Tampa man was railroaded in girl’s killing. Film spurs Georgia to reopen case.

James Fair Jr. was convicted without a jury or attorney. A legal team won him freedom, but there was never justice for the African American victim.
The little girl highlighted in the front row is Yvonne Holmes, who was raped and murdered at 8 years old. A Tampa native was falsely convicted and later exonerated of the crime. Now, 60 years later, the case has been reopened. [Courtesy of Clennon King]
The little girl highlighted in the front row is Yvonne Holmes, who was raped and murdered at 8 years old. A Tampa native was falsely convicted and later exonerated of the crime. Now, 60 years later, the case has been reopened. [Courtesy of Clennon King]
Published Jan. 14
Updated Jan. 14

TAMPA — Clennon L. King was lobbying the state of Georgia to reopen a 60-year-old murder investigation when he visited Tampa last March to show a documentary about the case.

He and his film are back in town this week, but with a different message: His plea has been heard.

The announcement was made in July that Georgia’s Pataula Judicial Circuit will review the case — the rape and murder of a little girl. A man born and raised in Tampa, James Fair Jr., had been quickly convicted of the crime but a legal team succeeded in freeing him. The criminal investigation was never reopened, until now.

“Someone has the courage to reveal the truth,” said King, a Boston filmmaker.

King will host a free screening of Fair Game: Surviving A 1960 Georgia Lynching 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Hillsborough Community College’s Mainstage Theatre, 2112 N. 15th Street in Ybor City.

Related: Film explores case of Tampa-born man who escaped 'lynching' in Georgia

He has a personal connection to the case: His late father C.B. King of Albany, Ga., was the attorney who headed up the team that cleared James Fair.

“My father saved this man’s life,” King said. “I want to reveal what happened with this girl’s death. I feel like I owe that to the ancestors.”

His father led a legal team that won freedom for a man falsely convicted of murder, so Boston filmmaker Clennon King felt it was his duty to see the case through. [Courtesy of Clennon King]

The mother and brother of the 8-year-old victim, Yvonne Holmes, still live in Georgia.

Reached by phone, brother Bunzie Holmes told the Tampa Bay Times that neither he nor his mother Frances Holmes would have a comment.

Ronald V. McNease Jr., district attorney in the Pataula circuit, told the Times via email, “My office will work diligently for justice on this case, just as we do on all the cases we prosecute. Neither the nature nor the importance of this case is lost on me.”

Filmmaker King’s documentary tells the story of James Fair Jr., born in Tampa and educated at St. Peter Claver Catholic School downtown. The school still is in operation.

Fair moved to Bayonne, N.J., with his family when he was 10. Fourteen years later, he took a road trip with a friend to the friend’s hometown of Blakely in southwest Georgia’s Early County.

They arrived around the time that Holmes, an African American girl, was found raped and murdered.

Fair was arrested for the crime just two hours after checking into a boarding home. A circuit judge convicted him less than three days later. The trial lasted just 15 minutes, with no jury or defense attorney.

Fair’s mother then assembled a defense team that succeeded in freeing him 26 months later.

The documentary includes interviews with members of the defense team, Fair’s family and people who lived in Early County.

Filmmaker King remains convinced the real killer was a white man and Fair was targeted simply because he was black.

“If there was a coverup, it is important that community comes clean,” King said, “The town of Blakely, Early County, the state of Georgia — they owe that to history. They owe that to the public.”

For months, King traveled the country to show the documentary.

Then, in early 2019, he visited the offices of the Georgia governor and state attorney.

Neither met with him, so King left each a letter that included an online link to the documentary.

“While the legal system ultimately worked for Mr. Fair, the state of Georgia did not do its job where it concerns ensuring justice for 8-year-old Yvonne Holmes,” King’s letter reads.

James Fair visits with his mother Alice Fair on death row in Georgia during the early 1960s. Alice Fair assembled the legal team that won freedom for her son. [Courtesy of Clennon King]

King sent a number of emails to the governor and state attorney then received the news in July that the case would be reviewed.

King shared with the Times one of the emails he sent to state leaders:

“As former Blakely police chief Charles Middleton said on camera in the film, there was widely held suspicion by Early County’s black community that James Fair Jr.'s quick conviction and death sentence was nothing more than a cover-up by the white community to protect one of their own.”

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