William D. Hopkins

State Attorney, Second Judicial Circuit
1947 - 1973

When the eyes of the world were upon Tallahassee in 1959 and the skeptics were in full bloom, one man stood tall and firm in defense of the law. In a racially segregated state, the concept of equal justice was always in doubt, but not so in June 1959 when four young white men were charged with raping a black female student from Florida A&M University.

The Defendants, in a segregated courtroom, were facing an all white male jury, judge and prosecutor. Only the victim was African American. If anyone had any doubts about whether the victim would receive fair treatment because of her race, they were put to rest by the vigorous prosecution of the case by Bill Hopkins, the State Attorney for Leon County and the Second Judicial Circuit. In his closing argument to the jury, he talked about equal justice under the law regardless of race and stated:

"This law-enforcement proposition has got to be consistent if it's going to be successful."

With those words and the full force of his passion and persuasion, Bill Hopkins convinced the jury to return a verdict of guilty. The impact of that verdict, as viewed on the world stage, cannot be underestimated. Jim Bishop, a popular national columnist of the time, was impressed with what he had observed in the prosecution of the trial. He wrote in his column after the trial that "Sometimes I meet a big man. A really big one. I don't know it at first because all of them sound alike. It takes time to see the bigness and more time to appreciate it. I met one in Tallahassee. His name is William D. Hopkins."

The effects of the verdict are still discussed today in academic journals. Danille L. McGuire writing in the Journal of American History in 2004 discussed the positive effect of the verdict on the African American community and wrote "As a result, the 1959 Tallahassee rape case was a watershed event that remains as revealing now as it was important then."

The Office of State Attorney was created in Article V, Section 15, of the Constitution of 1885. It provided: "The Governor, by and with the consent of the Senate, shall appoint a state attorney in each judicial circuit." Bill Hopkins was appointed by Governor Caldwell as State Attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit in 1947. He replaced Orion C. Parker Jr, whose term had expired, after serving as State attorney for the previous15 years. The salary was $6,000.00 and the job involved a lot of travel. Court in those days was still convened based on the statutorily required Terms of Court. This usually meant court convened at least twice a year in each county for the Spring and Fall terms. One of the most important obligations of the court system was the processing of the criminal docket and that was primarily the responsibility of the State Attorney. The 1947 Legislature provided for a full time assistant State Attorney starting in July, 1948 at a salary of $4,500.00.

In 1951, the Legislature made the office of State Attorney an elected one. Bill Hopkins was elected without opposition. In 1964, he faced his only opponent, Sylvan Strickland, the Leon County prosecuting attorney. Hopkins won easily and he continued to serve as State Attorney until his retirement in 1973.

When I interned in his Office in 1971, the staff consisted of: two full time assistants, J. Worth Owens and Bill Camper; one executive secretary, Helen Bosenberg; two secretaries, Kenna Hayes and Linda Ellis; and four investigators, Dale Croy, Ronnie Hayes, Charles Barfield and George Brand. Two part time assistants handled the outlying counties. They were Tracy Riddle and Harry Morrison. That year Gene Owens moved over to the US Attorneys office and Mr. Hopkins hired two new full time assistant state attorneys, Tony Guarisco and Howard Holtzendorf.

Bill Hopkins retired in 1973 and was succeeded by his long time assistant Harry Morrison. Bill spent his retirement years on his farm in eastern Leon County and at his vacation home in western North Carolina. He died July 16, 2007, at age 98.

This article is dedicated to his two daughters Dee Crusoe and Ann Wainwright who gave to their father the love, patience and attention in his old age that made his last years ones of great blessing.

Written by: Judge George S. Reynolds III
October 2, 2007