Pardon urged for black veteran Kennard framed by state in 1960 By JERRY MITCHELL FOR THE ASSOCIATED PRESS JACKSON - State Parole Board members meeting next week could consider a request to recommend a pardon for a decorated black Korean War veteran jailed on bogus charges 45 years ago. Clyde Kennard's surviving relatives - his brother-in-law, niece and nephew - are making the request. "I know he was innocent, but for the sake for others, they need to know he was innocent," said Kennard's brother-in-law, the Rev. Willie Grant, pastor of the Martin Luther King Avenue Baptist Church in Hattiesburg. The board, which meets Tuesday and Wednesday, could make the recommendation, but the final decision is up to Gov. Haley Barbour. On March 30, the House and Senate passed resolutions honoring Kennard, and the governor declared a Clyde Kennard Day in memory of the veteran who tried to break the color barrier, remarking, "I believe it's very clear he wasn't guilty." Barbour hasn't issued a pardon in office, but Kennard's family suggested now is the right time. "There is an exception to every rule, especially when the applicant is absolutely innocent of the crime for which he was convicted and a person of the highest moral character," the brief says. A three-month investigation by The Clarion-Ledger revealed the Army veteran was locked up in 1960 for a crime he never committed after refusing to give up efforts to attend the all-white University of Southern Mississippi. The brief, filed on behalf of Kennard's kin, was prepared by the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago and the Adlai Stevenson High School National History Day Club in nearby Lincolnshire, whose students are working on a documentary on the Kennard case. Kennard was attending the University of Chicago in 1955 when he had to return to Mississippi to help his mother with the family farm near Hattiesburg after his stepfather became disabled. Lacking one year to graduate, he approached officials to attend Southern, only to be turned down. Minutes after he tried again to enroll in fall 1959, two constables arrested him on charges of reckless driving and illegal possession of whiskey, for which he was convicted. In 1991, The Clarion-Ledger published secret documents from the state's now-defunct segregationist spy agency, the Sovereignty Commission, that showed how authorities framed Kennard on those charges. Despite the conviction, Kennard persisted in his quest, and in 1960, one of the same constables who arrested him on the trumped-up charges arrested him for burglary. In the trial, 19-year-old Johnny Lee Roberts testified Kennard, a 33-year-old farmer, put him up to breaking into Forrest County Co-op to steal $25 in feed. Now, 45 years later, Roberts said Kennard, who died of colon cancer in 1963, "wasn't guilty of nothing." Roberts since has sworn under oath Kennard was innocent. District Attorney Jon Mark Weathers, whose office is looking into the case, said he got a statement from Roberts. "Mr. Roberts was adamant Mr. Kennard had nothing to do with the burglary," Weathers said. Weathers reviewed the court file and trial transcript, reading all the testimony. "My recollection is that the only testimony in the record that ties Clyde Kennard to the burglary is that of Johnny Lee Roberts," the prosecutor said. With Roberts now saying under oath that Kennard was innocent, "the state's case fails," he said. "You don't need to go anywhere else." The brief being filed with the Parole Board says, "Clyde Kennard's wrongful conviction... robbed him of his rightful place in history. Instead of being honored as a hero of Mississippi's civil rights movement, mentioned in the same breath as Vernon Dahmer and Medgar Evers... Kennard has largely been relegated to the status of a footnote in histories of the era. "But Kennard is no less a casualty of the civil rights era. Although he was not murdered by whites acting outside of the law, his life was taken by whites acting under the so-called color of law." In 1993, USM named a building after Kennard, but Mississippi has never taken steps to clear his name.