Minnesota Board of Pardons issues posthumous pardon on anniversary of Duluth lynchings

UPDATE: The Minnesota Board of Pardons has unanimously voted to grant a posthumous pardon to a man convicted of rape in Duluth in 1920.

The board stated Max Mason was wrongly convicted on a rape charge in the aftermath of public lynchings of three other individuals.

The board voted 3-0 to pardon Mason in the alleged rape of a 19-year-old white woman. The case traces back 100 years ago, when Irene Tusken's male companion alleged that traveling circus workers had raped her at gunpoint. A white mob eventually lynched three men, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie. Mason was the only man convicted in the case despite doubts by some people back then about evidence. 

"Justice delayed is justice denied. One hundred years late, justice has been done," Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement following the decision. "The Duluth lynchings are a dark stain on our history. A century later, the last few weeks have shown us that in Minnesota, we still have a need for a better quality of justice. This pardon for Max Mason is another long-delayed step toward it."

Gov. Tim Walz called the pardon "100 years overdue."

Meanwhile, In 2003, the city of Duluth apologized for the lynching of Clayton, Jackson, and McGhie and dedicated a memorial to the men's honor on the site of the lynching.

Friday, Minnesota's Board of Pardons could make history if it grants a posthumous pardon to a man convicted of rape in Duluth 100 years ago.

ABC affiliate WDIO-TV reports Max Mason was convicted of the same sexual assault allegation that led to the lynching of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie, but now, the matter of Mason's guilt is being revisited.

"This is the only thing we have left that we can do to bring some justice to this situation I think," St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin told WDIO.

The Minnesota Board of Pardons, which consists of the chief justice, the attorney general, and the governor, will decide whether Mason will become the first person posthumously pardoned by the state.

Rubin told WDIO, "What is significant here, and the Board has to determine this tomorrow, do they have a legal right to this relief? Can the Board actually do that? Number two, should they?"

The details of the conviction are outlined in a 70-page petition.

"I have never seen such a detailed recitation of the facts that led up to his trial," Rubin said.

When a Pardon Extraordinary Application is sent to the board, the county attorney from where the conviction came, is invited to weigh in. Rubin gave his support of a posthumous pardon in February.

"When I look at this request for a pardon and I look at what was said," Rubin told WDIO, "At how the trial was conducted, how the investigation was conducted, I can support it because sometimes mercy is necessary to bring about some justice. Sometimes that's the path."

Rubin said his hope is that a pardon, even 100 years late, rectifies an injustice and inspires racial harmony.

"The reason is that there was an injustice," Rubin told WDIO. "But if it happens to make things a little better in our relationships and give us some hope for a better future for us, for our kids, and our grandkids, I think it's important."

The Board of Pardons will meet virtually Friday 9 a.m. Max Mason's case is the first item on the agenda.