Minn. Board of Pardons reconsiders infamous Duluth rape case that spurred mob lynchings | KSTP.com

Minn. Board of Pardons reconsiders infamous Duluth rape case that spurred mob lynchings

Updated: December 16, 2019 10:10 PM

For the first time in state history, the Minnesota Board of Pardons held a hearing to consider clemency for a criminal who is already dead.

Max Mason's case was among roughly two dozen considered by the three member panel made up of Attorney General Keith Ellison, Governor Tim Walz, and the Chief Justice for the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The hearings are held twice a year and give criminals a chance at clearing their names. At the start of Monday's meeting, Walz stated, "a person must be physically present to receive a pardon." That criteria makes the request on Max Mason's behalf even more unprecedented. Mason died in 1942.

His case is connected to a crime that may some allege may never have occurred. The allegations occurred in Duluth in 1920 which marked a racially fueled atrocity too gruesome to remember and too important to forget.  

Just before the hearing began, Ellison said, "this is one of those occasions where justice delayed may not be justice denied, I think we need to rectify the problems of the past."

Irene Tusken, 19 in 1920, a white woman, claimed she was raped by several black men working for the traveling circus in Duluth. The allegation spurred outrage, demonstrations, and led to three men being hung in the street.

Max Mason, 21 at the time, was arrested but not part of the mob lynching. Mason became the only circus worker actually tried and convicted on what some call questionable charges. In court documents, a doctor who examined the woman said he didn't find physical evidence of rape. Yet, Mason served a prison sentence in Stillwater, and when released in 1925, the Alabama native was banned from coming back to Minnesota.

All along, Mason had insisted he was innocent, however, all of his efforts at appeal or pardon were denied. But activists with a non-profit urged the Board of Pardons Monday night to reconsider clemency for Mason. 

The Governor listened intently, "on a case like this. There's a bigger societal implication, we're grappling with the 100th anniversary when civil rights were violated."

Attorney General Ellison believes, "this will prompt a statewide conversation sorely needed."

It takes 2 of 3 board members to approve.

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Beth McDonough

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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