In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Tom Robinson’s trial begins with the first witness. Heck Tate, Maycomb’s sheriff, is the first to testify for the prosecution.
When the supposed rape takes place, it is Mr. Tate’s job to go to Tom Robinson’s house and arrest him despite the lack of evidence other than the hearsay testimony of the Ewells.
Leading up to the trial, Tom is brought to the Maycomb jail the night before. Tate warns Atticus that there may be trouble or a lynch mob coming to the jail. Tate makes himself scarce because he is afraid. The only one left to defend Tom is Atticus. The children also take a part in saving Tom from hanging. Mr. Tate shows himself to be a coward in this situation.
On the stand, Mr. Tate has dressed up for the occasion.
His testimony includes this information:
- The event happened on the night of November 21.
- Mr. Ewell comes to the sheriff’s office and claims that the Negro raped Mayella, his daughter.
- Mr. Tate goes to the Ewell home.
- Mayella says that Tom Robinson raped her.
- Tate brought Tom to the Ewell house where Mayella identified him as her assailant.
Two important bits of information come from his testimony.
First, no one sent for the doctor for Mayella despite her many injuries. No one examined her for the age of the bruises, if she had been raped, or the seriousness of her injuries.
“Did you call a doctor, Sheriff? Did anybody call a doctor?” asked Atticus.
“No sir,” said Mr. Tate.
“Why not?” There was an edge in Atticus’ voice.
“Well I can tell you why I didn’t. It wasn’t necessary, Mr. Finch. She was mighty banged up. Something sho’happened, it was obvious.”
“But you didn’t send for a doctor?” asked Atticus.
Secondly, Mr. Tate figures out that Mayella was injured on her right side. She has a black eye on that side, Most of her other injuries were there as well. Later in the trial, it will be determined that Tom Robinson could not have given Mayella the injuries that she received. Tom disability prevents him from using his right hand; therefore, he could not have caused Mayella’s injuries.
These points will be used later by Atticus to prove that there was no way that Tom Robinson could have committed the crime.