Murder in Coweta County, a 1976 true crime book about the April 1948 murder of sharecropper tenant Wilson Turner by powerful landowner John Wallace, became a TV movie in 1983 which teamed The Andy Griffith Show's namesake with country music stars Johnny and June Carter Cash.
Griffith plays Wallace, the first white man handed a death sentence in Georgia based off the testimony of two Black men, while Johnny Cash fills the role of Coweta County Sheriff Lamar Potts--the lawman that took down the rural Georgia power broker who controlled Meriwether County estate The Kingdom.
By most accounts, Turner stole two of Wallace's cows after Wallace fired the tenant farmer for bootlegging moonshine. Turner was arrested and jailed in Carrollton, Ga. and later let go, supposedly due to a lack of evidence. Turner's release was a setup, with Wallace and his henchmen waiting outside and gasoline syphoned from Turner's vehicle so he wouldn't make it far past the jail. Wallace's crew caught up with Turner across the Coweta County line, where the murder took place.
Wallace was executed in the electric chair in 1950.
The CBS television movie also stars June Carter Cash as Mayhayley Lancaster, a political activist and lawyer known for her involvement in the Leo Frank case. Other stars of note include Watergate-era attorney James F. Neal, In the Heat of the Night regular Dan Biggers and Earl Hindman (Wilson from Home Improvement).
It was produced by Dick Atkins and Michael Lepiner and directed by Gary Nelson.
Margaret Anne Barnes, the book's author, was a reporter for the Newnan Times-Herald, which was Alan Jackson's hometown newspaper. Per her profile on the Coweta Country Convention & Visitor's Bureau website, Barnes' true story about the Wallace case "received an Edgar Allan Poe Special Award for an outstanding fact-crime study from the Mystery Writers of America, and a newspaper critic called it, 'One of the best crime trial recreations ever written.' The book has been used in a number of sociology and criminal law courses at schools throughout the United States."
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This story first ran on May 18, 2021.