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A group of Black men known as the Martinsville Seven, who
were executed in 1951 after being convicted by all-White
juries of raping a White woman, were on Tuesday August 31
pardoned by Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia.

The men were all convicted of raping 32-year-old Ruby
Stroud Floyd, a white woman who had gone to a
predominantly black neighborhood in Martinsville, Virginia,
on January 8, 1949, to collect money for clothes she had
sold.

Northam noted that the seven were convicted by juries made up entirely of white men, and some of them were illiterate, unable to read confessions they signed.

“Race played an undeniable role during the identification, investigation, conviction, and the sentencing,” the governor said in the pardon document.

The Martinsville case became a civil rights flash point
shortly after the men were arrested in January 1949.

It was gathered that the woman who recounted walking past
a group of Black men drinking by the railroad tracks in the
Southside Virginia town in her court testimony which lasted
for two hours, said one of them tackled her, before some
of them raped her repeatedly, threatening to kill her if she
screamed and dragged her into the woods after she briefly
escaped.

Police quickly rounded up seven Black men and produced
signed confessions. While all seven were said to have
admitted having sex or attempting to have sex with the
woman, their descriptions of events differed, and all pleaded
not guilty to having sex by force.

Several of the men were illiterate and could not read their
own confessions, and none had a lawyer present when they
signed. They were convicted in just eight days by all-White
juries.


Frank Hairston Jr. (18 years old), Booker T. Millner (19),
Francis DeSales Grayson (37), Howard Lee Hairston (18),
James Luther Hairston (20), Joe Henry Hampton (19), and
John Claybon Taylor (21), of Martinsville, were then
executed in February 1951.

However in 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that
imposing the death penalty in cases of rape amounted to
cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution.

Late last year, relatives and descendants of the executed
men petitioned Northam to issue a posthumous pardon, at
least the second time they had requested he do so. The
families did not argue that the men were innocent but rather
that they did not receive impartial justice.

The petition read;

“The Martinsville Seven were not given adequate
due process.

“They were sentenced to death for a crime that a
white person would not have been executed for . . .
and they were killed, by the Commonwealth, ‘simply
for being black.’ ”

Commenting on the execution, Governor Northam said from
1908 when Virginia began using the electric chair to 1951,
state records show that all 45 people executed for rape
were black.

He said;

“These men were executed because they were
black and that’s not right.”

Northam added that prior to abolishing the death penalty in
2021, Virginia had executed more people than any other
state, and “studies have shown that a defendant is more
than three times as likely to be sentenced to death if the
victim of a crime is white than if the victim is Black.”

A statement from the Governor’s office read;

“Governor Northam’s pardons recognize the unjust,
racially-biased sentences these men received, as
well as the disturbing lack of due process in their
trials and convictions. All members of the
Martinsville Seven were convicted and sentenced
to death within eight days, and each defendant was
tried by juries made up entirely of white men. Some
of the defendants were impaired at the time of
arrest or unable to read the confessions they
signed, and none had attorneys present during their
interrogation.

“Pardons should not have to be a part of the
process to ensure a fair and equitable justice
system, but unfortunately that’s been case for far
too long and I’m happy we have a Governor that
believes in using his clemency powers to right the
wrongs and provide second chances,” said
Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson.
“Governor Northam is committed to criminal justice
reform, and has made it a priority to thoroughly
review and act on pardon petitions. We’re seeing
the results today.”

Northam has used the pardon more than any other governor
of the modern era, according to state officials. In July, for
instance, he granted an absolute pardon to Bobbie Morman
Jr., who served 22 years in prison for his part in a Norfolk
shooting in which no one got injured.

Earlier in August he exonerated Emerson Eugene Stephens,
a waterman from Reedville who spent 32 years behind bars
for a murder that he didn’t commit.

Source:- Punch Ng

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