Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Alabama Governor supports pardon for Scottsboro boys

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's governor would like to grant a request to pardon the black Scottsboro Boys over false accusations of raping two white women in the segregated South, but he lacks the legal authority, a spokesman said Thursday.

Officials with the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center in Scottsboro sent a pardon request to Gov. Robert Bentley on Wednesday after first contacting the state parole board.

"Governor Bentley supports pardoning the Scottsboro Boys. However, the Constitution does not give him the authority to do so," spokesman Jeremy King said.

The state parole board doesn't grant posthumous pardons, a spokesman said.

One of the nine black teenagers convicted of raping two white women in 1931 received a pardon from the state parole board in 1976, with the support of then-Gov. George C. Wallace. Clarence Norris was the only one living at the time, and nothing was done for the other eight.

King said the governor's staff is looking at what might be done to allow posthumous pardons.

In 2006, the Legislature passed the "Rosa Parks Law" to allow for pardons for people convicted of violating the law during protests against segregation. Relatives can apply for the deceased to obtain pardons.

King said the governor would support the Legislature passing a law similar to that.The Scottsboro Boys Museum opened in 2010. It chronicles how a sheriff's posse stopped a train at Paint Rock, Ala., March 25, 1931, and arrested nine black teenagers on charges of raping two white women on the train. They were convicted in trials in Scottsboro, and all but one was initially sentenced to death. They won new trials. One of the women recanted her story. Five of the Scottsboro Boys had the rape charges dropped, while four were convicted.

The case resulted to two significant U.S. Supreme Court decisions saying criminal defendants are entitled to effective counsel and blacks can't be systematically excluded from criminal juries. One of the men, Haywood Patterson, was tried in a Decatur courtroom by Limestone County Judge James Edwin Horton. Although a jury found Patterson guilty, Horton threw out the verdict, an unpopular decision at the time that cost Horton re-election.

When Norris obtained his pardon in 1976, there was talk of trying to do something for Andy and Roy Wright, Haywood Patterson, Olen Montgomery, Charlie Weems, Ozie Powell, William Robertson and Eugene Williams , but nothing happened. Norris died in 1989.

The museum, which opened in 2010, is trying to stir up interest again. It has received support from several prominent Alabama lawyers.

"It's time to officially clear their names. We will do all we can to see that this happens," the governor's spokesman said.