Martinsville 7 pardoned by Virginia 70 years after execution for rape

Seven black men executed 70 years ago for the rape of a white woman were posthumously pardoned Tuesday by the governor of Virginia, who ...


Seven black men executed 70 years ago for the rape of a white woman were posthumously pardoned Tuesday by the governor of Virginia, who said the group, known as Martinsville Seven, had been denied due process because of his race.

In a meeting with the descendants of several men in Richmond, Virginia, Gov. Ralph S. Northam said the men were convicted by all-white juries of raping a woman in 1949 in Martinsville, southern Virginia, and were sentenced to death within eight days.

The convictions sparked protests far beyond Virginia, with protesters in Washington and Harlem urging President Harry S. Truman to end the executions. The president will not interfere and the governor of Virginia at the time denied a request for a last-minute reprieve. The men were executed in 1951.

Pardon supporters said that in contrast, there was no record of a white accused executed for rape alone in modern Virginia history.

Mr Northam, a Democrat who stressed he has given more pardons than the previous nine Virginia governors combined, said the men did not deserve the death penalty.

Without saying the men were innocent, Mr. Northam noted that all 45 people executed in the electric rape chair in Virginia from 1908 to 1951 were black. The pardons came five months after Mr Northam signed a bill to abolish the death sentence in Virginia, making it the first southern state to end capital punishment.

“These men were executed for being black, and that is not fair,” said Northam. “Today we are here to recognize the harm that has been done to these seven men.”

The men were Francis DeSales Grayson, Frank Hairston Jr., Howard Lee Hairston, James Luther Hairston, Joe Henry Hampton, Booker T. Millner and John Clabon Taylor. Most of them were in their late teens or early twenties.

For decades, their descendants have been clamoring for a solution to what they called a miscarriage of justice. They said the men were forced to confess they raped Ruby Stroud Floyd, a 32-year-old white woman who visited a predominantly black section of Martinsville, located about 80 miles south of Roanoke, Va. .

Pardon supporters petitioned Mr Northam last December to seek clemency for the seven men. In July, Martinsville City Council released a resolution calling on Mr Northam to commute death sentences.

“The Commonwealth of Virginia criminal justice system has failed them,” Northam said. “They did not benefit from due process. Their punishment did not match the crime.

A few descendants of the men cried Tuesday after Mr Northam announced the pardons, including James Grayson, son of Francis DeSales Grayson.

“Thank you, Jesus,” Mr. Grayson said.

Moments earlier, he said state recognition of injustice was overdue.

“I’m looking for closure,” he said. “I am looking for forgiveness. I know a mistake has been made, and now it is time for this mistake to be corrected.

Rudolph McCollum Jr., a former mayor of Richmond who previously served on the state parole board, said Virginia was making progress. His great-uncle was Francis DeSales Grayson and his uncle was Booker T. Millner.

“You have pushed Virginia into the 21st century, a century where there are greater opportunities for equity and opportunity for all Virginians, and we thank you for that,” he told Mr Northam.

Mr Northam, who announced measures in May to streamline the forgiveness process, has granted 604 pardons since taking office in 2018.

“For too long in Virginia,” said Mr. Northam, “racism and discrimination have been woven into the fabric of our systems, especially our criminal justice system.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Martinsville 7 pardoned by Virginia 70 years after execution for rape
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