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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam granted posthumous pardons to seven black men executed in 1951 for raping a white woman, Ruby Stroud Floyd.
The case sparked calls for clemency around the world and has been denounced in recent years as an example of racial differences in the use of the death penalty.
Northam announced the pardon after meeting with the descendants of men and their defenders. Screams and sobs were heard from some of the descendants after Northam’s announcement.wikipedia
The Martinsville Seven, as the men were called, were found guilty of Ruby Stroud Floyd, 32, a white woman who sold on the 8th.
On February 2, 1951, four of the men were executed in the electric chair. The remaining three were electrocuted three days later. All were examined by pure white juries.
The seven men, aged between 18 and 37, were arrested in 1949 for the rape complaint of Ruby Stroud Floyd, 32, a white woman who lived in Martinsville. All were tried and sentenced to death within eight days by all-white juries.
According to court records, some of the men admitted to “having sex” with Floyd, but claimed they were drunk and did not recall holding her as the victim claimed. Northam’s pardon also said the men did not understand the confessions they were signing.
Rape was a capital crime at the time. On Tuesday, Northam said the death penalty for rape had been imposed almost entirely on blacks. 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.wikipedia
The pardons do not address either guilt or innocence, but Northam said they were confirmation that the men did not receive due process and received a “racially biased death penalty that is not similarly applied to white defendants. “.
“These men were executed for being black and that is not right,” Northam said. “Your punishment did not coincide with the crime. It shouldn’t have been executed. ”
The seven men were sentenced and sentenced within eight days. Northam said some were compromised or could not read the confessions they had signed at the time of their arrest. He said there were no lawyers present while they were being questioned.
James Walter Grayson, the son of Francis DeSales Grayson, one of seven, sobbed loudly when Northam told members of his family that he would grant them forgiveness after seeing them Tuesday.
“Thank you Jesus. Thank you, Lord,” he said, crying as he was embraced by two other descendants of men.
Grayson said he was four years old when his father was executed.
“It means a lot to me,” he said of forgiveness. “I remember the day the police were at the door. He kissed us and they took him away. ”
In December, attorneys and descendants petitioned Northam for posthumous pardons. His request does not argue that the men were innocent, but he does say that their trials were unfair and the punishment was extreme and unfair.
“The Martinsville Seven did not receive due trial ‘simply because they were black,’ they were sentenced to death for a crime in which a white person would not have been executed ‘just because they were black,’ and were killed by the Commonwealth [of Virginia ], ‘just because he’s black,’ ”defenders wrote to Northam.
The seven men, most of them in their teens or early 20s, were Grayson, Frank Hairston Jr., Howard Lee Hairston, James Luther Hairston, Joe Henry Hampton, Booker Millner, and John Clabon Taylor.
Northam has granted 604 pardons since he took office in 2018, more than the previous nine governors combined, his administration said.
“It’s about redressing the injustices,” Northam said. “We all deserve a fair, equitable and adequate criminal justice system, no matter who you are or what you look like,” he said.
In March, Democrats signed a bill, passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature, to abolish the death penalty in Virginia. It was a dramatic change for a state that had the second highest number of executions in the United States.
The Martinsville Seven case was cited as an example of the disproportionate use of the death penalty against people of color during legislative debate.