Democratic governor of Virginia Ralph Northam posthumously pardoned seven blacks executed in 1951 for raping a white woman. The original process was marked by manifestations of racial discrimination. Today’s pardon does not blame a group of men called the “Seven of Martinsville,” but admits that their trial was not impartial and the punishment was inadequate, the Associated Press reported.
Skin color played “an undeniable role in their identification, investigation, and conviction,” Governor Northam said in a statement. African Americans were judged by a jury of white people. “These men were executed because they were black, and that’s not right. Their punishment was not commensurate with the crime. They should not have been executed,” Governor Northam said.
“We cannot change the past, but I hope that this measure will bring some peace,” said the governor, who met with ten descendants of the executed men the same day. Lawyers and lawyers of the executed filed for pardon last December. The petition did not claim that the men were innocent, but insisted that their trial was unfair and the punishments disproportionate. In the case of both arguments, the governor today agreed with them.
In January 1949, seven men in a dangerous part of Martinsville raped a 32-year-old woman who reported everything to the police. She soon arrested the men and obtained their written confessions. Despite public protests, the lives of all seven men ended in an electric chair in February 1952. The number of executions for rape in the state of Virginia since 1908 has shifted to a total of 45 sentences, all executed were black.
In recent years, the original verdict has been condemned as an example of racial inequality in the maximum sentence. Governor Ralph Northam is a strong supporter of criminal justice reform and has granted 604 pardons since taking office in 2018.