Sheila Washington, founder of the museum dedicated to the Scottsboro Boys, has called for pardons from the state of Alabama for the unpardoned 8 of the 9 men in the group.
In 1931, the height of the Depression, the 9 black boys, all between the ages of 13 and 19, were travelling by freight train to find work. When the train stopped in Paint Rock, a group of white men jumped off the train and accused the black men of attacking them. A group of deputized civilians boarded the train to arrest the Scottsboro Boys, and also found two white women on the train who accused the boys of rape. The first trial, in Scottsboro, only lasted 4 days and ended in death sentences for all but one of the accused. However, the American Communist Party took up the cause and appealed the trial several times. Eventually, many of the witnesses, including one of the victims, recanted their story.
The case inspired two US Supreme Court decisions later, one that criminal defendants are entitled to effective counsel, and a second saying that black people could not be excluded from criminal justice.
Eventually all nine of the boys were paroled, and in 1976, one was pardoned. However, each spent at least 6 years in prison. The last member of the group, Andrew Wright, was not set free until 1950.
Although all nine of the Scottsboro Boys has passed away, Sheila Washington is petitioning Alabama because, she stated, “They were done wrong, and justice should be corrected.” Pardoning the falsely accused Scottsboro Boys would wipe the crime from their records. She has formally petitioned Alabama Governor Robert Bentley.
However, Gov. Bentley says he does not have the authority to grant the pardon. But, in a formal statement delivered by spokesman Jeremy King, the governor says he will explore methods of posthumously pardoning the group, including passing legislation that would allow posthumous pardons. Senator Shadrack McGill and Rep. John Robinson said they not only fully support, but would be willing to sponsor, such legislation.
The petition comes at a time when many state governments are under scrutiny for wrongful convictions. Recently, the ACLU claims that many inmates in North Carolina have been wrongfully convicted due to a quirk in North Carolina law. The University of Michigan Law School and the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law created a database to track exonerations in the United States, and the Innocence Project works to exonerate falsely accused prisoners, as well as lobby with state governments to provide financial assistance to exonerated prisoners.
The lawyers at Strom Law, LLC, have experience with federal criminal defense. We fiercely defend our clients to prevent wrongful incarcerations. Call us today for a free consultation. 803.252.4800.