The murder of Grac Jones: Chapter 17

Published 9:52 pm Thursday, August 13, 2015

The commutation

EDITOR’S NOTE: On the evening of Oct. 26, 1908, five shots rang out in the village of Holland. Tiberius Gracchus “Grac” Jones lay dying on the ground inside the gate leading to his home. “They have killed me and killed me for telling the truth,” he told a friend as his life ebbed away. This is the 17th in a series of articles about the Jones murder case. Suffolk historian Kermit Hobbs Jr. compiled the 18-part series from personal accounts, newspaper stories and court records he has studied from the period.

By Kermit Hobbs Jr.

Special to the News-Herald

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As the days counted down toward Sam Hardy’s scheduled execution, his supporters worked diligently to save him. Gov. William Mann had been made aware that a petition was circulating on Hardy’s behalf and would soon be presented to him.

Robert W. Withers, Suffolk’s Commonwealth’s Attorney, also knew about the petition. Knowing that Gov. Mann had been known to commute sentences for capital offenses in the past, Withers wrote to the governor and requested the opportunity to meet with him personally when he received the Hardy petition.

Withers, one of the original prosecuting team, sought to emphasize to the governor that Sam Hardy did, indeed, deserve the death sentence.

Mann wrote Withers back and assured him that once he received the petition, Withers would be given an opportunity to present his opinions before he ruled on any commutation.

In the end, the governor received a lot more than just the petition he had been expecting. One bit of information was an affidavit written by young Mary Holland, whose parents had been the primary alibi witnesses for Sam Hardy during the trial.

They had testified that Hardy had been in his bed at the time of the Grac Jones murder, but the jury had not believed their testimony. Mary stated in her affidavit that she had, without a doubt, seen Sam Hardy in his bed at the time of the murder. She had been ill at the time of the trial and had been unable to testify.

Gov. Mann wrote, “I read her affidavit with care, but not being willing to trust to it, I asked a man who was a minister of the gospel to bring the young lady to my office, which he did, and in his presence I cross-examined her….” He later added, “I could not find any reason to doubt what she said.”

Finally, he wrote, “With this evidence before me, I am unwilling for Sam Hardy to be electrocuted.” Mann commuted Hardy’s sentence to life in prison.

This decision to spare Sam Hardy’s life came on May 19, 1910, the day before his scheduled execution. Gov. Mann had broken his promise to allow Robert Withers to speak to him before making his decision.

The news of Hardy’s commutation was met with rejoicing among most of the people around Holland, but there were two people who not so well pleased. Surprisingly, one of these was Sam Hardy, himself.

He still contended that he was innocent, and he had held out hopes of being pardoned altogether. His best hope now was that he would be released in 15 years on good behavior.

Governor Mann’s commutation of Sam Hardy’s sentence enraged Bunyan Jones, brother of the murder victim. Jones set to work writing and publishing an exhaustive account of the case, including his brother’s murder and the ensuing trial of Sam Hardy.

He titled the book, “The Famous Hardy Murder Trial,” and in it he wrote a scathing condemnation of Gov. Mann. He noted that he was selling the books for 50 cents each, half the actual cost to publish them. He felt that it was worth the financial cost to broadcast what he perceived to be the truth about his brother’s death.

Jones’ strategy of selling the books below cost backfired on him. According to Holland residents in later years, Sam Hardy supporters bought and destroyed as many copies as they were able to. This explains the fact that at the present time, original copies are very rare.

Jones’ book was one of the primary sources of information used in compiling this history, even though it is extremely biased against Sam Hardy.

TOMORROW: The aftermath

Previous: Chapter 16