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The seven men were convicted of raping 32-year-old Ruby Stroud Floyd, who went to a predominantly Black neighbourhood in Martinsville, Virginia, on January 8, 1949, to collect money for clothes she had sold. Four of the men were executed in Virginia’s electric chair on February 2, 1951, with the other three being electrocuted three days later. Earlier this week, Governor Ralph Northam granted posthumous pardons to the seven young men who were branded as the “Martinsville Seven”.
Mr Northam’s office said on Tuesday: “While these pardons do not address the guilt of the seven, they serve as recognition from the Commonwealth that these men were tried without adequate due process and received a racially biased death sentence not similarly applied to white defendants.”
“We all deserve a criminal justice system that is fair, equal, and gets it right — no matter who you are or what you look like.
“I’m grateful to the advocates and families of the Martinsville Seven for their dedication and perseverance.”
The families of the men said that their relatives were interrogated under duress, without the presence of a lawyer, with their confessions being coerced under the threat of mob violence.
Howard Lee Hairston, 18, (left) and John Clabon Taylor, 21, (right) were executed. (Image: Commonwealth of Virginia)
James L. Hairston, 20, and Frank Hairston Jr., 18, died by electrocution. (Image: Commonwealth of Virginia)
Mr Northam ceremonially signed pardons for Francis DeSales Grayson, 37; Booker T. Millner, 19; Frank Hairston Jr., 19; Howard Lee Hairston, 18; James Luther Hairston, 20; Joe Henry Hampton, 19; and John Claybon Taylor, 21, with the descendants of the men present at the ceremony.
Central Virginia’s news channel WWBT has reported that the Martinville 7 Coalition, including family members and community advocates, have been pushing for the posthumous pardon since last year.
James Grayson, son of Francis DeSales Grayson, said: “They did not deserve to die.
“Governor Northam should render an apology to the families of these seven men, stating that they should not have been executed.
Harry S. Truman was the President of the USA at the time. (Image: Getty)
“It’s never too late to right a wrong.”
Curtis Millner, who was nine when his cousin Booker T. Millner was executed, said: “I was traumatized by this incident.
“I’m looking for closure.”
According to figures gathered by CNN, prior to abolishing the death penalty earlier this year, 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.
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Joe Henry Hampton, 19, (left) and Booker T. Millner, 19, (right) were also executed. (Image: Commonwealth of Virginia)
Family members of Francis Grayson, 37, were present at the ceremony. (Image: Commonwealth of Virginia)
From 1908 to 1951, all 45 prisoners executed for rape in Virginia were Black men.
In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that imposing the death penalty for rape was cruel and unusual punishment.
Mr Northam said: “While we can’t change the past, I hope today’s action brings them some small measure of peace.”
These latest pardons mark the Virginia governor’s 604th pardon since his time in office.