Dueling Datelines

Charleston, S.C. October 10, 1910
Hal Hinson, New York Tribune


The word swept through this town, a plague of publicity. In some quarters, it brought cheers of celebration. In one small quarter, in one instant, in one glance before they pulled him from the courtroom, Daniel Cornelius ‘Nealy’ Duncan looked into the eyes of the girl he would never marry and I saw the light of two worlds extinguished.
There was a mighty struggle in this small city. Not so much the battle between Good and Evil, although on the surface it would appear one of those lost horribly today, but a struggle between two men and the conflict of their time. I have met both and neither are wholly good, nor wholly evil. They share similar virtues in the love of the land, their horses, their homeland and heritage. They both share the fault of being human.
Both John Peurifoy and Brice Matthews entered into a trial with a preconception. Both came to this trial thinking that the defendant was guilty. One changed his mind. Neither came to this court with passion for the trial. Both left having fought harder than he had intended and both attorneys and those who watched walked away feeling that Nealy Duncan came closer to freedom than any expected. But close doesn’t count, at least not to Nealy, because he is less than two days away from a noose.
When it was over, this trial was more fizzle than bang. Sometimes like life, when on your dying bed you wonder if it was all worth it, because in the end, it really didn’t make a damn.

That fictional dispatch followed the very real verdict in a murder trial over a century ago from the novel Dead Weight. The odd crossover of fiction and fact, a quest for justice a century delayed, may soon produce a new headline.

On January 26th, the state board of pardon and parole will rule on the petition for a posthumous pardon for Daniel Cornelius ‘Nealy’ Duncan, the main and true character in Dead Weight.

One might hope that the board will come to the right conclusion on their own. You know by my nature, I harbor no such illusion.

I worked on the objective side of the news business for many years. Understanding that the media can bring great weight and influence to the decisions of policy makers and politicians, I would ask you for any help or contacts you might lend to booking interviews or stories that might bring this century old travesty of justice to light, and to right.

There is some precedent in the case of nationally syndicated radio host Tom Joyner’s petition to pardon relatives executed in 1915.


Oddly enough, they were executed by electric chair, a new and considered to be a more ‘humane’ method, largely after the bungled execution of Daniel Duncan.

Unfortunately, I have neither the clout of Mr. Joyner, nor PBS behind the effort. A local attorney is picking up where Brice Matthews (the original defending attorney) left off. We will see where the local politicians line up.

Below, you’ll find the press release and background. Click on photos for larger images.