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Family and social justice advocates request pardon for “Martinsville Seven,” nearly 70 years after execution

Published: Dec. 14, 2020 at 8:31 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - In 1949, seven men from Martinsville, Francis Grayson, Frank Hairston Jr., Howard Hairston, James Hairston, Joe Hampton, Booker T. Millner and John Taylor, were found guilty of rape and attempted murder. They were sentenced to death and executed for their crimes in 1951.

“My grandmother had eight kids and we could not account for all eight so when it came to Booker T.; that is how we talked about him,” said Rudy McCollum, Booker T. Millner’s nephew, former mayor of Richmond and attorney.

McCullom was inspired to study law by his uncle’s case and reviewed the transcripts of the case while in school.

“I really came to see how much of an atrocity and travesty of justice those men were treated,” said McCollum.

For Liz Ryan, CEO of the Youth First Initiative, who is working with several William and Mary Law students, she feels Governor Ralph Northam should address the state’s history of injustice.

“In his last year in office he has this opportunity to take one step to address this misjustice.” said Ryan.

According to court transcripts, all but one of the men confessed to the crime and a physician treated and testified to the victim’s injuries.

However, with an all-white jury and alleged lack of evidence in the trial, Ryan believes the seven never had a fair chance at justice.

“It is hard to say 70 years later to know what happened and what we do know is that these men never got the opportunity to tell what happened in their case,” said Ryan.

Governor Northam has not addressed the case since the pardon request.

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