CNN is reporting that two innocent men who were wrongfully convicted and executed for a killing that took place nearly 100 years ago have been pardoned by South Carolina. We hope that it will not take that long for Todd Willingham to receive a pardon from the State of Texas.
This is a story about racism in a murder case a long time ago, but racism continues to play a role in who gets the death penalty and who does not. Click here to read about the case of Rodney Reed in Texas.
Nearly 100 years had passed since his great-uncles, Thomas Griffin and Meeks Griffin, were wrongfully executed in South Carolina. On Wednesday, a board voted 7-0 to pardon both men, clearing their names in the 1913 killing of a veteran of the Confederate Army.
It marks the first time in history that South Carolina has issued a posthumous pardon in a capital murder case.
“It really, really feels good,” Joyner told CNN’s Don Lemon.
Joyner made the journey to Columbia, South Carolina, with his wife, his sons, his brother and nieces and nephews. When the board announced its decision, they danced, hugged and kissed. “All of the above,” he said. Video Joyner describes gleeful, historic moment »
In the end, it took only about 25 minutes for their pardon, nearly a century in the making.
“It’s good for the community. It’s good for the nation. Anytime that you can repair racism in this country is a step forward,” Joyner said.
He said the ruling won’t bring back his great-uncles, who were electrocuted in 1915. But it does provide closure to his family. “I hope now they rest in peace.”
The Griffin brothers had owned 130 acres in the area and were well-liked in the community. They were convicted of killing John Q. Lewis, a 73-year-old veteran of the Civil War. Lewis was slain in his home on April 24, 1913.
“Only the most profound sense of injustice would have led so many white leaders of the community and ordinary white citizens to publicly support blacks convicted of murdering a white man,” Finkelman said in a letter to the board of paroles and pardons.
According to the research uncovered by Finkelman, Lewis, the former Confederate soldier, apparently had an intimate relationship with a married 22-year-old black woman, Anna Davis. Suspicion initially turned to her and her husband after the murder.
“It is plausible to believe that the sheriff did not want to pursue Mr. and Mrs. Davis because if they were tried, it would have led to a scandalous discussion in open court,” Finkelman wrote to the pardon board on October 2, 2008.
The investigation later turned to another man, Monk Stevenson, who would ultimately point police to the Griffin brothers and two other black men. Stevenson received a life sentence in exchange.
“Stevenson later told a fellow inmate that he had implicated the Griffin brothers because he believed they were wealthy enough to pay for legal counsel, and as such would be acquitted,” Finkelman said.
The Griffin brothers and the two other men, Nelson Brice and John Crosby, were convicted in a trial that lasted four days. They were electrocuted on September 29, 1915.
Now, Joyner says he urges all African-Americans to explore their pasts — no matter how difficult that journey may be.