On an Exoneration

We’re probably all familiar with pardons. A pardon says that you committed the offense, but you do not have to serve the punishment or pay the penalty for what you did. An exoneration on the other hand is different; it says you did nothing wrong in the first place. In this case, the person exonerated is named Elizabeth Johnson, and her story is quite phenomenal. You see, Elizabeth had been wrongly sentenced to death by a jury of her peers for crimes that we will look into in a moment.

It seems that a middle school class in Andover, Massachusetts, heard about Elizabeth’s case, and their teacher helped them research her situation. After looking at all aspects of Elizabeth’s evidence and the testimony both for and against her, the kids decided that she was completely innocent of the crimes she was convicted of. These amazing young people took the case of Elizabeth Johnson to heart and set out to learn as much as they could about her.

Elizabeth was born in North Andover, and she never married and never had children. Her family was fairly well-known; she was the granddaughter of a prominent minister in the area, and she was named after her mother (Elizabeth’s family referred to her as “Junior” because of this.). She was tried and convicted for her “crimes” when she was only 22 years old. While she had been sentenced to death, the death sentence had been commuted.

But the schoolkids wanted to prove that Elizabeth was completely innocent of the crimes and weren’t happy with a mere commutation of her death penalty. The kids were shocked to learn that not a small number people on death row today have been falsely convicted of their capital crimes. They researched the Massachusetts justice and legislative systems to determine exactly how to assemble the proper evidence, fill in the right forms, follow the correct procedure, and send all of that to the appropriate people to expedite Elizabeth’s exoneration. Their teacher noted that they become so obsessed with the case that almost all other schoolwork went by the wayside, but she could not help but admire their determination to make right what they saw to be a serious miscarriage of justice.

And it worked. In 2022, the Massachusetts State Legislature passed legislation that completely exonerated Elizabeth Johnson, Jr.

You’d think that Elizabeth would be grateful for the tireless work of these young people. You’d think that she would go to the school and thank these wonderful children in person. Of course, she didn’t, but that wasn’t because she was indifferent or ungrateful.

It’s because Elizabeth’s conviction for witchcraft in Salem happened 329 years ago.


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