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The first character is the sheriff, Heck Tate. Mr. Tate is called to tell about the day he went to see Mayella, and he tells about what he say in regards specifically to her injuries. Having Mr. Tate goes first sets up the tone of the trial. Although much argument goes on, there is not a sense from the outset that the goal is to convict Tom Robinson. Mr. Tate's testimony is balanced and unbiased. He does not have a prejudice against Tom, and so the readers begin the trial feeling like this might turn out in favor of Tom.
If Mr. Ewell had been the first to testify, the tone would have been very different. An early bias against Tom would have been established, and Atticus would have been more on the defensive and not so much in control.
The trial represents both prejudice and change in the world of Maycomb - prejudice because an obviously innocent man gets convicted, and change because it takes the jury time to come to that conclusion. They don't automatically condemn the black man. Having Heck Tate go first opens the door to the idea and the hope of change.
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