After 35 years two families discover common ground

Published 8:40 am Thursday, October 25, 2018

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A chance meeting in a hotel lobby recently has resulted in a better understanding between two Marengo County families, seemingly on the opposite sides of a murder case 35 years ago.

Nate Conner Jr., now a resident of Michigan, returned to his native Marengo County two weeks ago for a reunion at Linden High School. When he checked into the Days Inn in Demopolis, the receptionist behind the counter said his name sounded familiar. It didn’t take long for the two to put the pieces together.

Nate is the son of Marengo County Deputy Nate Conner, who was shot and killed in a shooting in 1983. The lady behind the counter was Jennifer Martin, the niece of Ernest Martin, the man who was arrested and convicted of Conner’s murder.

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After speaking with each other, it turned out the two families had more in common than they thought, especially in that neither felt Martin was the man who killed Conner.

“I had reservations at the Day’s Inn and needed to get to Linden, but something told me to go ahead and check in,” Conner said. “When the lady behind the counter looked at my license, she said my name sounded familiar. I told her she may remember reading about my father in the news, that he was a deputy killed in 1983. That’s when she said she was the niece of Ernest Martin.”

The two conversed through an awkward moment, Conner said, but ultimately he shared that he, nor other members of his family, ever thought Martin killed his father.

“I never believed it; my grandmother, Leola Conner, she never believed it. My sisters, cousins, step-mother, nobody ever believed it because of how the story was told. It didn’t make sense then and it doesn’t make sense now. I think an innocent man died in prison for something he didn’t do,” Conner said.

Ernest Martin died in prison at the age of 67.

Conner said Jennifer Martin was brought to tears in hearing that all this time the family of Deputy Conner felt the same as the Martin family. Soon, the word spread to others in the Martin family.

“All of these years our family has been looked down upon for being the family that killed Deputy Conner,” said Dana Edwards, another niece of Ernest Martin. “We are so thankful Nate reached out to us. It means a lot to us that the Conner family knew he didn’t do it.”

While Edwards said the conversation with Conner  brought about some sense of closure, she added that clearing her uncle’s name is the priority.

“We want the truth to come out about who really did it. We want that for my uncle, even though he is dead now. Once we accomplish the truth, only then can we have full closure,” Edwards said.

To accomplish that, the two families may be working together.

Conner said he plans to return to Alabama and possibly writing more on his father’s death. “I believe a lot of people in Marengo County believe (Martin) didn’t do it and it is time for the story to be told.

“It’s something neither family has been able to let go of completely and it never hit home for me until I met (Martin’s) family and had that conversation. To hear them cry about their uncle dying in prison, all along telling his family he didn’t do it, it’s important that people know. I’m sorry they lost their uncle in prison the same way I’m sorry I lost my father when I was 13,” he said.

After meeting members of the Martin family, Conner said he felt moved to post a video on Facebook sharing his thoughts about the shooting as a way of publicly acknowledging that he and other members of his family felt Ernest Martin was not guilty of killing his father.

Conner’s video post on Facebook can be found here:  page