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Charles Freeman Change of Venue Hearing (1968)


Sound | 1968

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  •  Possibly Ned Wade, Charles Freeman’s defense attorney 
  •  Harris County District Attorney Carol Vance crouches down at the end of the table 
  •  District Judge Wendell Odom explains his decision to transfer the trial 
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This unedited footage from Houston’s KPRC-TV captures the scene at a change of venue hearing for the trial of Charles Freeman on April 29, 1968. Freeman was one of the TSU Five, a small group of Texas Southern University students charged with assault with intent to murder following the TSU Riot the previous May. To ensure a fair trial following extensive news coverage of the case, Harris County District Attorney Carol Vance and the Houston Bar Association asked District Judge Wendell Odom for a change of venue. During the hearing on April 29, Odom transferred the trial to Victoria. The following day, District Judge Joe Kelly of Victoria came to Houston to meet with the prosecution and defense teams, setting a trial date of June 24. Following the denial of further change of venue requests by the defense, the trial took place between October 28 and 30. On October 31, after nine hours of deliberation, the all-white jury informed the judge that they were deadlocked. Judge Kelly ultimately dropped the charges against all five defendants in June 1970 due to insufficient evidence. Judge Odom dropped the remaining charges of inciting a riot in November.
On the night of May 16, 1967, police blockaded the Texas Southern University campus in response to a student civil rights protest. Amidst the high racial tensions, the confrontation escalated into an “Alamo-scale shootout,” according to the Houston Chronicle. Police fired an estimated 3,000 rounds into TSU’s Lanier Dormitory, where the students were blockaded. Law enforcement raided the building in the early morning hours of May 17, arresting 488 students—the largest mass arrest in Houston history. Two police officers were wounded and another, rookie Louis Kuba, was killed. A small group of students, known as the TSU Five, were indicted on charges of inciting a riot, assault, and murder. They were Charles Freeman, Trazawell Franklin, Douglas Waller, John Parker, and Floyd Nichols. Only Freeman was tried, resulting in a hung jury. A judge ultimately dismissed the case against all five defendants due to insufficient evidence, believing that Kuba most likely died from a ricocheting police bullet.