Expert to discuss racially charged capital murder case Friday, April 16

The Wake Forest University School of Law’s Innocence and Justice Clinic will host Albany University School of Law Professor Paul Finkleman, who will discuss “Guilty Until Posthumously Pardoned: Reversing the South Carolina Murder Convictions,” on Friday, April 16.

The noon event, which will be held in Room 1312 of the Worrell Professional Center, is free and open to the public.

“When we have an injustice of this incredible magnitude and we know racism, class and the prevailing culture in the South in the early 20th century were critical factors which led to these innocent men being executed,” said Carol Turowski, co-director of the law school’s Innocence and Justice Clinic.

“It is our responsibility to become educated about the injustice in order for us to prevent similar atrocities from occurring in the future. Atrocities happen when good people do nothing.”

Finkleman will discuss the now internationally famous capital murder case of brothers Thomas and Meeks Griffin. In 1915 in South Carolina, the Griffin brothers were convicted of and executed for a capital murder they did not commit. Finkleman was able to help secure a posthumous state pardon for the pair in 2009 in what was the first ever pardon issued for a capital offense in the history of the state, and is believed to be the first ever such pardon in the history of the United States.

Finkleman argued that the brothers had no logical connection to the crime, and that they were likely convicted due to the prevailing racial tension at the time. The Griffins were owners of a 138-acre farm, most likely making them the wealthiest African-American men in the area. There were also rumors of an interracial affair surrounding the case.

The Griffin brothers were the great-uncles of famous radio host Tom Joyner, who helped bring considerable media attention to pardon debate as it progressed.

“Paul Finkelman is an outstanding speaker and is a one of the nation’s top experts on slavery and the law and race and the law,” says Professor Michael Curtis. “His talk will illuminate the racial climate of the times and how that affected the criminal justice system.”

– By Will Johnston