Video: S.C. pardons radio host’s kin

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    >>> now to a story about america's past, a big-time radio host , and race. south carolina officials today gave posthumous pardons to two relatives of radio talk show host tom joyner . the men were convicted of killing a confederate army veteran in 1913 and sentenced to death. but two years ago joyner learned their story and set out to clear their names. nbc's ron mott has the story now from columbia, south carolina .

    >> reporter: it's a round of applause nearly a century in the making. two great uncles of prominent radio personality tom joyner were pardoned today by the state of south carolina for a murder that ultimately cost them their lives.

    >> the only way to solve racism in this country is to talk about -- is to talk about it and to close some of the issues of the past like the griffin brothers.

    >> reporter: in 1913 meeks and thomas griffin , along with two other african-american men, were convicted of killing a wealthy white confederate army veteran. almost immediately, doubts surfaced about their guilt. the men's attorney was given just 24 hours to prepare a defense. they were executed in 1915 .

    >> legal electrocution? cause of death , legal -- they electrocuted them?

    >> yes.

    >> reporter: joyner first learned of his relatives' story two years ago during taping of a pbs documentary called "african-american lives" by harvard professor henry louis gates .

    >> do you know why your grandmother moved away?

    >> i have no idea.

    >> reporter: the griffins, who always maintained their innocence, were large land owners and were forced to sell their property to cover legal costs , joyner said. his grandmother moved to florida after the execution, taking a painful family secret with her.

    >> as an historian i'm just honored to see something historical rectified in the present. that's a great feeling.

    >> to protect the confederate soldier's reputation they blamed it on my uncles.

    >> reporter: joyner says research shows the white soldier, john q. lewis, was likely killed because of his alleged involvement with a black woman . the vote to pardon the griffin brothers was unanimous and, some say, noteworthy, especially considering south carolina 's checkered history on matters of black and white . legal historian paul finkelman represented joyner .

    >> this is about a very long history of the lack of real justice for african-americans in the united states generally but particularly in the deep south .

    >> reporter: joyner called it a great day for his two late uncles.

    >> i hope now they rest in peace.

    >> reporter: a peace he hopes that will lead to justice for others. ron mott, nbc news, columbia, south carolina .

    >>> one of the great pop

updated 10/14/2009 12:19:54 PM ET 2009-10-14T16:19:54

Two great-uncles of syndicated radio host Tom Joyner, sent to the electric chair for the 1913 murder of a Confederate Army veteran, were unanimously pardoned Wednesday by South Carolina.

Officials believe the men are the first in the state to be posthumously pardoned in a capital murder case.

Black landowners Thomas and Meeks Griffin were executed 94 years ago after a jury convicted them of killing 73-year-old John Lewis, a wealthy white veteran living in Blackstock, a Chester County town 40 miles north of Columbia. Two other men were also put to death for the crime.

Joyner learned about his uncles' fate during filming of the PBS documentary "African American Lives 2," which traced his lineage.

The talk show host and legal historian Paul Finkelman then began to work to clear the Griffins' names because they thought they were framed by another man who was linked to the victim's stolen pistol. John "Monk" Stevenson testified against the others in exchange for a life sentence, but later told fellow inmates the four men had nothing to do with the crime and he pointed his finger at them to save himself.

Joyner and his attorney made a presentation to the state parole and probation board on Wednesday, then left the room while the board voted.

Joyner said he waved his hands and hugged family members when he got word of his great uncle's pardons.

"This won't bring them back, but this will bring closure. This is a very good day," he said.

More than 120 people signed a petition asked for a reduced sentence for the men, including Blackstock's mayor, a former sheriff, two trial jurors and the grand jury foreman, but then-Gov. Richard Manning refused clemency or a pardon, sending the men to the death chamber.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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