100 years later, pardon being sought
By Yvonne Wenger, Post & Courier
COLUMBIA — One hundred years ago, Daniel 'Nealy' Duncan was hanged for a murder he swore he didn't commit.
His body rests in an unmarked grave in Charleston.
But he is not forgotten.
Today, Duncan's name may be cleared.
The South Carolina Board of Paroles and Pardons will decide whether to absolve Duncan of the 1910 murder of Max Lubelsky, a tailor who died from a beating in his King Street shop.
Batt Humphreys will argue Duncan's innocence and try to persuade the board to see the execution as he does, a 'judicial lynching' of a black man in the Jim Crow-era South.
'If you believe in the continuity of the soul, I do think somewhere he will know and somehow it will make a difference,' said Humphreys, an author and former network television producer.
He said he pushed for the posthumous pardon after being moved by a 'profound sense of grace' that he believed Duncan showed — forgiving those who testified against him and thanking his jailers for being decent men.
Humphreys wrote a historical fiction novel, 'Dead Weight,' based on the events. He has pushed for the pardon since the book was published in 2009.
'I was struck with internal sadness, and you wonder, what can you do?' he said. 'If we can do something about this, it shows or indicates that maybe we have evolved somewhat in our ability to look at the past, correct what we can, open the agenda for the discussion and interaction and go forward.'
The descendants of Lubelsky, the murder victim, have written the state and objected to the posthumous pardon, said Pete O'Boyle, director of public information for the Probation, Parole and Pardon Services Department.
Family members could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and it is not clear if they will speak on Lubelsky's behalf at today's hearing.
South Carolina has pardoned four people after their death in modern history, O'Boyle said. The most high-profile were pardons for the great-uncles of Tom Joyner, the nationally syndicated radio host. The men were executed by electric chair for the 1913 murder of a Confederate Army veteran.
Humphreys said Duncan was the last person hanged in South Carolina. The system used for his hanging did not work properly, leaving Duncan to slowly suffocate, hanging from a noose for 39 minutes before he died.
Duncan was arrested when he was spotted on King Street in the moments after Lubelsky's widow, Rose, was attacked. She was assaulted in
Lubelsky's clothing shop on July 8, 1910, 17 days after her husband was beaten to death there.
The widow, who survived her attack, said she was assaulted by a black man. Duncan was one of about dozen suspects detained by the police during their investigation, according to Humphreys.
About a month after Duncan's execution in late August 1911, a fierce hurricane hit Charleston that old-timers still call the 'Duncan storm,' a legend passed down for generations as retribution on the Holy City for the execution of an innocent man.
Legend has it that Duncan said his innocence after death would be confirmed in a show by the heavens.
State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a Ridgeland Democrat and pastor at Mother Emanuel AME Church on Calhoun Street, said the eldest members of his congregation told him about the 'Duncan storm.'
'I think it will be good for all of us to look back on history and not be ashamed of it, to see a wrong be righted,' Pinckney said. 'Here we are, on the eve of Black History Month. What a wonderful way for South Carolina to enter Black History Month.'
Pinckney ministers to the church that Duncan's pastor, the Rev. L. Ruffin Nichols, presided over. Nichols counseled Duncan until his execution. Nichols' great-granddaughter Kay Hightower will speak on Duncan's behalf at today's hearing.
Capers Barr, a Charleston lawyer and former 9th Judicial Circuit solicitor, also is expected to advocate for Duncan's pardon, calling on actual testimony from the 1910 trial that ended with an appeal denial from the state Supreme Court in March of 1911.
Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855.