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Justice Served: Joyner Wins Great Uncles Posthumous Pardons

Posted by Audiegrl

Tom Joyner’s Falsely Executed Relatives Cleared – 94 Years Later

Syndicated Radio Host Tom Joyner

Syndicated Radio Host Tom Joyner

BlackAmericaWeb.com/Jackie Jones—The South Carolina Parole and Pardons Board has unanimously granted Tom Joyner a posthumous pardon for his great-uncles, Thomas and Meeks Griffin, who were executed in 1915 for a crime they didn’t commit.

Officials believe the men are the first in the state to be posthumously pardoned in a capital murder case.

Joyner, his brother, Albert, and two sons, Thomas and Oscar, were joined by Harvard scholar Henry Louis “Skip” Gates and his legal team in presenting their case. The host of “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” called in to the program right after the decision came down shortly after 9:30 a.m. to inform co-hosts Sybil Wilkes and J. Anthony Brown, along with his nationwide listening audience, who’d been texting their well-wishes for the family all morning.

Tom Joyner and Henry Louis Gates (at left) embrace after being granted posthumous pardons for Joyner's great-uncles.

Tom Joyner and Henry Louis Gates (at left) embrace after being granted posthumous pardons for Joyner's great-uncles.

They did give my uncles a posthumous pardon,” Joyner said. “We’re getting ready to go now for the signing of the pardon letter.”

Joyner had been on a quest to clear his uncles’ names after learning of their story when Gates announced the results of genealogy research conducted on Joyner’s family as part of the 2008 PBS special, “African American Lives II.”

Joyner, with help from Gates and South Carolina attorney Stephen K. Benjamin, put together the case petitioning the state to exonerate his maternal great-uncles.

Joyner holds up the signed pardon

Joyner holds up the signed pardon

The brothers were executed with two other black men for the April 1913 shooting death of John Lewis, 73, a wealthy Confederate veteran living in a town 40 miles north of Columbia.

The Griffin brothers were indicted in July 1913 and given just two days to prepare the case. The family was forced to sell 130 acres of land to finance the defense. Their lawyer sought a delay but the request was denied, leaving just one day to get ready. Later, the state Supreme Court said the denial was insignificant to the outcome of the case.

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African-American Lives 2 – Tom Joyner

africanamericanlivesIIdvdThe video clip below is poignant moment from the documentary where Dr. Gates stuns Joyner by telling him that his great-uncles were electrocuted by the State of South Carolina, for a murder they didn’t commit. Historically, of the 47 people who were put to death in South Carolina between 1912 and 1920, 44 were Black.

Albany Law School professor Dr. Paul Finkelman, who helped with the research on the case, says he’s never seen a case in which so many white public officials and sentences came forward to try to help black men who had been convicted.

The Griffin brothers stand for the thousands of people who are unjustly accused, unjustly convicted,“ he said after the pardon was granted. “It’s not just Tom Joyner’s family. This is a much bigger story and there are other stories that need to be told.”

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Put Tom Joyner’s life and ancestry in historical context with the PBS Interactive Historical Timeline

Tom Joyner’s Falsely Executed Relatives Cleared – 94 Years Too Late

SC Board Pardons 2 Black Men Executed 94 Years Ago

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Texas Governor Perry May Have Put a Lid on Arson Report

Posted by Libby Shaw

Republican Governor Rick Perry

Republican Governor Rick Perry

According to the Houston Chronicle Perry received an arson report from an expert in 2004 but he won’t reveal if he read it before Todd Willingham was executed.

In a letter sent Feb. 14, three days before Willingham was scheduled to die, Perry had been asked to postpone the execution. The condemned man’s attorney argued that the newly obtained expert evidence showed Willingham had not set the house fire that killed his daughters, 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron, two days before Christmas in 1991.

On Feb. 17, the day of the execution, Perry’s office got the five-page faxed report at 4:52 p.m., according to documents the Houston Chronicle obtained in response to a public records request.

But it’s unclear from the records whether he read it that day. Perry’s office has declined to release any of his or his staff’s comments or analysis of the reprieve request.

A statement from Perry spokesman Chris Cutrone, sent to the Chronicle late Friday, said that “given the brevity of (the) report and the general counsel’s familiarity with all the other facts in the case, there was ample time for the general counsel to read and analyze the report and to brief the governor on its content.”

A few minutes after 5 p.m., defense lawyer Walter M. Reaves Jr. said he received word that the governor would not intervene. At 6:20 p.m. Willingham was executed after declaring: “I am an innocent man, convicted of a crime I did not commit.”

Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in Texas

Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in Texas

In the past, as recently as during George W. Bush’s term, gubernatorial reviews were made public. Rick Perry, however, does not believe any of his or his staff reviews should be.

A Forensic Science Commission was about to disclose a report that seriously questions the arson evidence in the Willingham case. But Perry had immediately fired three of the Commission’s members, including the Chairman. The meeting at which the report would have been revealed was canceled.

His 2004 execution gained renewed prominence this year after the newly formed Texas Forensic Science Commission, created by the Legislature to explore and fix forensic flaws, released a report that criticized the arson evidence. Two days before the panel was to review that report, Perry abruptly replaced three members, including the chairman, and the meeting was canceled. The governor also attacked the report, according to other media reports.

The report reveals that the investigators in Willingham’s case made serious errors and had relied on junk science.

The five-page opinion faxed to Perry’s office on Willingham’s execution day in 2004 was the first. It said investigators made “major errors” and relied on discredited techniques akin to an “old wives tale.”

It was authored by Dr. Gerald Hurst, an Austin-based arson expert who holds a doctorate in chemistry from Cambridge University.

By 2004, Hurst already had received national media coverage for helping to obtain a string of high-profile exonerations by debunking arson evidence in other criminal cases. Hurst said in an interview that his previous analysis of flaws in another Texas arson-murder case had helped prompt the Board of Pardons and Paroles in 1998 to free a woman convicted of setting a fire that killed her infant son. She had served six years of a 99-year sentence.

By his actions one can only assume that Governor Rick Perry is attempting to cover up his negligence. Otherwise, he would admit if he did nor or did not read the report. For a man with 20 executions on his watch, one would think Governor Perry should, at the very least, want to know if the state has executed an innocent man. A person’s life is far, far more important than an election outcome.

Please call Rick Perry’s office and demand that he release all reports at 512 463 1782. Please also check Scott Cobb’s post over at the The Burnt Orange Report and Daily Kos. He provides links to a petition and the site to send an email to Perry.

Texas must immediately declare a moratorium on all executions until a complete and thorough review of all procedures on all levels is done by an outside, non-partisan board of experts. One innocent death is one too many.

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