Why would the witnesses maintain their story even in the face of violent persecution? It is one thing to cover for a friend when nothing is at stake, but quite another to cover for them when you are the victim of violence or your life is threatened.
One of the original members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles William E. McLellin said:
One circumstance I’ll relate of one of these eight witnesses. While the mob was raging in Jackson Co. Mo. in 1833 some young men ran down Hiram Page [in the woods] one of the eight [witnesses,] and commenced beating and pounding him with whips and clubs. He begged, but there was no mercy. They said he was [a] damned Mormon, and they meant to beat him to death! But finally one then said to him, if you will deny that damned book, we will let you go. Said he, how can I deny what I know to be true? Then they pounded him again. When they thought he was about to breathe his last, they said to him, Now what do you think of your God, when he dont save you? Well said he, I believe in God–Well, said one of the most intelligent among them, I believe the damned fool will stick to it though we kill him. Let us let him go. But his life was nearly run out. He was confined to his bed for a length of time. So much for a man who knows for himself. Knowledge is beyond faith or doubt. It is positive certainty.– Mitchell K. Schaefer, ed., William E. McLellin’s Lost Manuscript (Salt Lake City: Eborn Books, 2012), 166‒67
What made the witnesses say true to their testimony even in the face of such persecution? If they were just covering for Joseph wouldn’t they have crumbled at some point?