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Letter: Phil Sparks
'Martinsville Seven' opinion changed

Sunday, January 20, 2013

In a recent published letter much mention was made in reference to the trials of the “Martinsville Seven” and opinions were voiced as to the fairness of the trials of the guilty parties. Until about 10 or so years ago I was of the opinion that probably an enormous injustice had been done those seven. Then I read some accounts and books about the trials and my opinion was swayed to believing that not only were they guilty but they were given a trial that would meet the standards of any community in America during that period.

There are many canards about the trials in both directions.

What impressed me most in the reports and articles I have read was the actual manner in which the Martinsville area showed restraint and the extremes to which Judge (Kennon C.) Whittle, (the presiding judge in the cases) controlled the judicial process to ensure fairness for all of the accused.

There were many prominent citizens called upon to testify about whether a fair trial could be conducted here. One of those who stood out was beloved citizen and community leader Dr. Dana O. Baldwin. Dr. Baldwin testified to the effect that he felt the community had shown exemplary fairness. Another prominent witness was Kay Thompson, then editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. Thompson testified that “no mass prejudice” had arisen against the defendants and a fair trial could be had. Anyone who ever knew Thompson or Dr. Baldwin can attest to their fairness, sound judgment and integrity. (I never met or knew Dr. Baldwin personally but his life and record to the community are well documented. I did know Thompson and to this day I am of the opinion he was the best editor of the Martinsville Bulletin in my lifetime.)

It has been fascinating to read these transcripts, reports and book about the offenses, the investigations and trials. I highly recommend that if you’ve never read about them, check out the several published and documented accounts.

It is easy to pass on opinions and canards that have been handed down over the decades since this event occurred here, but it is easy enough to do some fact checking about it.

Were they innocent? In my opinion no they weren’t. When I get to heaven if I see them there, I’ll apologize for my mistaken opinion. Otherwise, someone else will have to give them my regards.

Phil Sparks



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