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Kin say 11 executed after trials for witchcraft deserve justice

HARTFORD — Descendants of some of the 11 people executed on charges of witchcraft in mid-1600s Connecticut are hoping that Governor Dannel P. Malloy will issue a proclamation clearing their distant relatives’ names and condemning the prosecutions and killings.

Over the past seven years, descendants and their supporters have been trying to get state officials to denounce the Connecticut witch trials, which began in 1647, three decades before the more infamous trials in Salem, and ended in 1697. About 45 people were prosecuted, according to a 2006 state report.

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‘‘They were wrongly accused. It’s a justice issue,’’ said Debra Lynne of New Milford, who says her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Sanford, was hanged for witchcraft in Hartford in 1662.

The first person executed in the New World for witchcraft was Alice Young of Windsor, Conn., who was hanged in Hartford in 1647, according to several books on the trials. The last executions were in 1662.

Many historians believe fear was a major driver of Connecticut’s witch trials, according to the state report.

Deeply religious colonists who endured years of hardships may have been looking for someone to blame, the report said.

Historians say laws against witchcraft stemmed from passages in the Bible.

‘In the 1600s, most of these people didn’t have defense attorneys. I think they were wrongly convicted. I think they died for a ridiculous reason.’

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Lynne’s ancestor, Mary Sanford, and her husband, Andrew, were accused of witchcraft in 1662, according to court records obtained by Lynne’s cousin.

They were also accused of having knowledge of ‘‘secrets in a preternatural way beyond the ordinary course of nature to the great disturbance of several members of this commonwealth.’’

A grand jury couldn’t agree on the indictment against Andrew Sanford and he was acquitted. But Mary Sanford was convicted and ordered executed.

While officials in Massachusetts, Virginia, and Hampton, N.H., have posthumously pardoned and exonerated accused witches, their counterparts in Connecticut have shown interest but taken no action.

Resolutions were proposed in the state Legislature in 2008 and 2009 but never made it out of committee. The governor’s office said he doesn’t have the authority to pardon anybody, and the state Board of Pardons and Paroles doesn’t issue posthumous pardons.

Advocates now think they have an answer: a gubernatorial proclamation.

Anthony Griego of Hamden, a 70-year-old retired police officer and pagan, requested the proclamation in February.

He said he’s only received an acknowledgment that the governor’s office received his request. In August, he launched an online effort asking people to write to Malloy.

‘‘In the 1600s, most of these people didn’t have defense attorneys,’’ said Griego, who’s been working on the exoneration effort since 2005. ‘‘I think they were wrongly convicted. I think they died for a ridiculous reason.’’

Malloy spokesman David Bednarz reiterated in an e-mail that the governor doesn’t have the authority to do what Griego and others are asking.

But the governor’s website invites residents to request proclamations, though it says he’ll issue them at his discretion.

Lynne supports Griego’s effort and isn’t discouraged by the response of the governor’s spokesman.

‘‘It’s been 350 years that this has been waiting to happen,’’ she said, ‘‘and for me there’s always hope.’’

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