R.I. House considers pardon for last man executed by the state

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee heard strong testimony Wednesday in support of a resolution asking Governor Lincoln Chafee to pardon the last man executed by the state.

The year was 1845 and the condemned was a poor Irish immigrant named John Gordon.

Historians who testified before the House Judiciary Committee agreed on three things: that John Gordon was convicted of the murder of textile magnate Amasa Sprague on the basis of flimsy circumstantial evidence, an unreliable star witness and anti Irish bigotry that weighted the trial strongly in favor of the prosecution.

Ken Dooley, who has written a play on the case, put it this way:

"Pardon is the wrong word. That usually implies that someone did something wrong and now through mitigating circumstances they want to change that. John Gordon did nothing wrong. He was totally innocent."

Historian and attorney Patrick Conley reminded the committee that justice has no statute of limitations.

"Those of us who not only prize justice but believe in the immortality of the human soul realize that John Gordon will know what you do for him now," he said.

The committee did nothing for Gordon last night. They held the resolution for further study.

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