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Name of Accused Witch to Be Cleared, Finally

8th-graders take up the case of Elizabeth Johnson Jr., accused in the Salem witch trials
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 19, 2021 4:26 PM CDT
328 Years Later, an Accused Witch to Be Cleared
This file photo shows memorials to women who were hanged as witches 325 years ago at Proctor's Ledge during the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts.   (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

(Newser) – More than three centuries after a Massachusetts woman was wrongly convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to death, she's finally on the verge of being exonerated—thanks to a curious eighth-grade civics class, per the AP. State Sen. Diana DiZoglio, a Democrat from Methuen, has introduced legislation to clear the name of Elizabeth Johnson Jr., who was condemned in 1693 at the height of the Salem witch trials but never executed. DiZoglio says she was inspired by sleuthing done by a group of 13- and 14-year-olds at North Andover Middle School. Civics teacher Carrie LaPierre's students researched Johnson and the steps that would need to be taken to make sure she was formally pardoned.

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If lawmakers approve the measure, Johnson will be the last accused witch to be cleared, according to Witches of Massachusetts Bay, a group devoted to the history of the witch hunts. Twenty people from Salem and neighboring towns were killed and hundreds of others accused during a frenzy of Puritan injustice that began in 1692. Nineteen were hanged, and one man was crushed to death by rocks. Johnson was 22 when she was caught up in the hysteria of the witch trials and sentenced to hang. It never happened: Then-Gov. William Phips threw out her punishment as the magnitude of the gross miscarriages of justice in Salem sank in. But because she wasn't among those whose convictions were formally set aside, hers still technically stands.

(Read more Salem stories.)

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