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Attorney asks Utah to pardon Joe Hill 100 years later, says execution of innocent man was political

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Posted at 7:24 PM, Sep 05, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-05 23:30:43-04

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Local labor union supporters organized an event Saturday to celebrate the life of a man who many believe did not deserve to die.

The Joe Hill Centennial Celebration was at Sugar House Park Saturday afternoon.

One-hundred years ago, Joe Hill was an immigrant working in Salt Lake City. He was arrested for murdering two people and was later executed at the old Utah prison. But many people believe he was innocent, and Saturday a criminal defense attorney is still asking Utah to pardon Hill.

Hill was executed for the murders of grocer John Morrison and his teenage son, who died after being shot on January 10, 1914. Hill went to the police department with a gunshot wound the same day but said it was from an altercation with another man over a woman. Police arrested Hill and accused him of murdering Morrison and his son.

“Joe Hill was identified as a remaining witness, but certainly the evidence was really never that strong against Joe Hill,” says Utah Criminal Defense Attorney Clayton Simms.

Simms claims authorities falsely accused Hill because they disagreed with his political views.

“He was a labor organizer,” Simms said. “He was a songwriter, and a rebel, and authorities found it convenient that he was charged with murder."

Hill’s great-grand niece performed a song at a concert in Sugar House Park Saturday to recognize the 100th anniversary of his death. Supporters say Hill died to make a statement for his causes.

“At a point, maybe, as well, he realized that it was better for the union and for his mission to get better rights for the workers,” said Lovisa Samuelsson, Hill’s great-grand niece. “It's a lesson for me to [think] OK, some things are worth dying for.”

Descendants of John Morrison and his son say they believe if Hill was innocent, he should've identified the people who shot him instead of covering it up.

“He didn't want to give the name of the woman nor her husband who was the one who actually shot him,” said the great-grandson of John Morrison, Jay Arling Morrison. “And clear until pretty much the last day before he died, all the officials over the case told him that, if he would just tell them who those people were, then they could confirm his alibi. Well, he would never do that.”

Both families say it’s a moment in history they wish they could move on from, but they say they don’t want the legacies of their family members to die.