The Final Appeal

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I stand before you as a somewhat unwitting witness. I did not seek to write the novel that has led this effort. It seemed to come to me as matter of fate.

But there is an odd thing about an author and his characters.. in this case a true character, a man, named Daniel Duncan. In this case facts formed the base of an amazing story.

A young man of education and professional training, who is arrested on the practical eve of his wedding, tried for murder and executed. He seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.. a matter of fate.

When I read the true words of a man condemned to die.. ‘I will not die with a lie on my lips.. I am an innocent man.” When I read the statement delivered after his death where he forgave those who trespassed against him, thanked his jailers for their kind treatment, claimed in innocence, he could die at peace.. and would see them all in heaven. I was profoundly touched by a sense of grace that did not seem to be the construct of a guilty man.

In my past life as a journalist, I covered many trials, at least two executions.. here in Columbia. Now I’m here asking you to pardon a young man I’m convinced is innocent.

I’m certainly not a lawyer, but in this case I’ve come to know two of them, separated by a century and both dedicated to proving that Daniel Duncan was innocent.

Brice Matthews came late to the game. He met Daniel on the first day of testimony. But then he looked at the man, looked at the facts and came to the conclusion that Daniel Duncan was not a killer. Brice went further than most any appointed defender might have in 1910. He went all the way to the Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Now, a hundred years later, this man.. Capers Barr, a former prosecutor picks up the case and comes to the same conclusion.

I do not have a legal mind.. after the past two years of this pursuit, sometimes my wife seems to think I’ve lost my mind.. but in the business where I spent so many years, we had a test of proof.. a test of fact.

In network news, if you found three sources on a story.. you ran with it. Dan Rather used to call it triple checked. This morning we already have the trial testimony of Brice Matthews. We will hear the thoughts of Capers Barr.

We have this letter from Charleston Mayor Joe Riley an attorney as well, who signifies and testifies his support for the pardon of Daniel Duncan. We have a state Senator and Reverend and we have a woman whose family has spoken for generations of the young man’s innocence. That’s five sources.

Two men died in 1910. For Max Lubelsky, nothing that we do here this morning can change the tragic loss of a young husband and father. That murder has affected generations in his family. We do not seek to diminish their loss.

The other man, Daniel Duncan, there are no descending generations. On the eve of his marriage, he is arrested. His love unconsummated, his family.. never exists. There are generations there, that never occurred. That loss, is the one we address today.

President Obama in a speech following the Arizona killings, called on Americans to expand our moral imaginations" and "sharpen our instincts for empathy. ... We have here today a chance to expand our moral imaginations, by connecting, and correcting the past.

If I might share one personal story. Last week I went to meet Reverend Pinckney at the AME Church in Charleston. At the end of the discussion, I asked if I could see the crypt of the Reverend Nichols.. who attended Daniel Duncan in the weeks before his execution. I walked into a room and read the words on the crypt.. then laid my hand on the cold stone. I felt something. I asked for strength. Reverend Pinckney put his hand next to mine and prayed. In that room, three men connected in a cause that has spanned a century, and tears came to my eyes.

The President spoke of our instincts for empathy.. I believe in the continuity of souls. I believe that if we choose the path of pardon.. that somewhere out there Daniel Duncan will know, and it will make an difference.

Our capacity to heal, isn’t just in the here and now.. it is for the Ages.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen.