Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council
The Centralia Massacre Part 12
Posted On: Nov 19, 2021

Judge Wilson refused to accept the verdict, saying that there is no such thing as “third degree murder.” Nor is manslaughter applicable, because manslaughter pertains to a death resulting from an unintentional and unpremeditated act. The jurors resumed their deliberations for a few hours more, and emerged with a new verdict. The new verdict was the same, except that it found Eugene Barnett and John Lamb also guilty of murder in the second degree. In addition, the following sentence was attached to the jury verdict: “We, the undersigned jurors, respectfully petition the court to extend the leniency to the defendants whose names appear on the attached verdict.”

As it turned out, the judge did not see fit to extend any leniency to the defendants, and sentenced the eight IWW members to twenty-five years and not more than forty years. This was considered a very harsh sentence, since the statute provides that there shall be a minimum sentence of ten years. The sentence was nevertheless legal and binding, since Judge Wilson was not required to follow the petition for leniency. The appeal by Vanderveer to the state Supreme Court was denied.

A campaign that lasted almost twenty years to free the Centralia prisoners got underway. James McInerney was still in prison when he died of tuberculosis on August 13, 1930. The remaining prisoners were freed as follows: Loren Roberts was declared sane by a jury and was the first prisoner released on August 20, 1930 after serving nearly eleven years. On May 27, 1931, Eugene Barnett became the second man to leave prison to assist and tend to his dying wife. (He was never returned to prison.) O.C. Bland was released on parole December 26, 1932. Newly elected Governor Clarence Martin paroled John Lamb on April 13, 1933, Britt Smith on June 24, 1933, and Bert Bland on July 1, 1933.

Ray Becker, the sole remaining prisoner, refused to accept parole. Finally, his sentence was commuted to time already served on September 20, 1939. Becker had been behind bars for almost twenty years. He was taken to Portland, Oregon, and treated like a labor martyr by the American Federation of Labor. Elmer Smith, who was acquitted, died in 1932 of a hemorrhaging ulcer at the age of forty-four.

Contact Info
Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council
PO Box 66
Olympia, WA 98507

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