Martin, On a Mission, Gains Statewide Attention

by Tom Shevlin on January 31, 2011 LOCAL NEWS

NEWPORT, R.I. – Newport Rep. Peter Martin (D), who over the last several weeks has been making the case for Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee to pardon an Irish immigrant whose conviction and hanging for a crime he didn't commit prompted the state to abolish the death penalty, has gained some notable media attention from Fountain Street today.

John Gordon's last day was Valentine's Day of 1845. Hanged for the murder of Cranston industrialist Amasa Sprague, Gordon's tale became emblematic of the anti-Irish sentiment that pervaded the state in the years leading up to the Civil War. Martin, who grew up in Newport's Fifth Ward had heard stories about the case, but it wasn't until recently that he became convinced that the only way justice would be done would be for Chafee to grant Gordon a full pardon.

The catalyst for Martin's efforts was a play written by Ken Dooley now showing in Cranston entitled "The Murder Trial of John Gordon," which we wrote about in the Jan. 20 edition of Newport This Week. Dooley asked Martin to submit a piece of legislation calling on Chafee to posthumously clear Gordon's name.

Katie Mulvaney from the Providence Journal has more on the story, which features a photo of Martin near Gordon's unmarked grave.

I spoke with Rep. Martin last week before he headed out for his photo shoot. Always deferential, at the time he was hoping that the story would focus more on Gordon and the playwright who brought his case to his attention.