Sheriff Tate is the first person to take the stand during the trial of Tom Robinson. He is first questioned by the prosecutor, Horace Gilmer, who discovers that the sheriff first learned of the attack on Mayella when Bob Ewell arrived at Tate's office claiming that "some nigger'd raped his girl." Sheriff Tate "found her lying on the floor in the middle of the front room... pretty well beat up." Tate told Gilmer that Mayella identified Tom Robinson as her attacker, and when he asked if Tom "took advantage of her... she said yes he did."
Atticus's questions revealed some other important information.
- Mayella was never seen by a doctor since Tate believed "it wasn't necessary." (Bob later claimed that he would not waste money on a doctor.)
- Tate told Atticus that Mayella had been "beaten around the head" and was "bunged up" on the right side of her face.
- There were also "finger marks on her gullet... all around her throat."
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Sherriff Heck Tate is the first person called to the witness stand. The prosecutor asks Sherriff Tate to tell him about the crime. Heck Tate tells the court what Bob Ewell told him. Bob claims a black man came in and attacked Mayella and raped her. When Heck questions her she says it was Tom Robinson.
However, when Atticus questions him, we see the beginning of Atticus' defense for Tom. Heck Tate admits that Mayella had bruise marks all around her neck and was beaten badly on the right side of her face, indicating that the assailant would have had to have been left handed. Atticus is setting up reasonable doubt.
Heck Tate's testimony is one of the most important of the case. He is the Sherriff and people believe him, so when he says that the man must have been left handed, we trust his words. He is the first one to show us the doubt that we have all been feeling is in fact real. If only the rest of the town could have felt the same way.