INDIANAPOLIS – Three men took their turns last week before the Indiana Parole Board, nervously recounting crimes they committed years before and stating their desire for Gov. Mitch Daniels to grant them a pardon.
One man wiped tears from his eyes as he recalled partly blinding his young son when he broke a window.
Another sat uncomfortably in a black suit and said he is still paying for stealing $240 worth of shoes and candy bars when he was a teenager. A third man from Steuben County donned a hoodie and jeans to tell the board he wants to become a forensic scientist.
Only one – the young thief who is now an aspiring artist – received a pardon recommendation from the group that day.
But that doesn’t guarantee Daniels will accept it.
During his more than seven years in office, 200 pardon applications have flowed to the governor. Of those, the board gave nonbinding nods to 65 and the governor granted just 45, or 23 percent of those requested.
Only four of those were related to crimes committed in northeast Indiana.
I ask myself which is the greater mistake. To give one that wasn’t warranted or to decline one that was, and I can argue with myself on that, the governor said. These are hard.
With about eight months left in his tenure, the parole board is piling up a list of pardons for the governor to review.
But Daniels said not to expect any mass redemption a la then-Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who issued 198 pardons in the final days of his term this year.
Instead, Daniels said he hopes to act on his final pardons by October.
There’s not going to be a going-out-of-business sale here, he said. I don’t want to be doing any at the eleventh hour. I wouldn’t want them tainted, frankly.
I just think that it’s a really serious decision and you want the person who receives the pardon and anybody they deal with to know that it was meritorious, wasn’t done impulsively or hastily or emotionally.
A pardon is executive forgiveness for a crime that removes penalties and disabilities to a person while also restoring civil rights, essentially making a person a new man or woman.
They are granted only to those who have completed their sentence, and of10 years later. It is not the same as commuting a sentence, where a person is let out of jail before a sentence is satisfied.
We try to explain it’s not a magic bullet, said Randall Gentry, vice chairman of the Indiana Parole Board. A pardon will provide some people a peace of mind about a mistake they made when they were young.
They all have their own unique twists and turns.
He said most people seek a pardon because they can’t find employment.
That was the case for Nathaniel Chase, who told the board last week he had started several new jobs only to be summarily fired when a background check surfaced showing his felony theft arrest that resulted in a misdemeanor conviction.
I’d like to move on with my life, he said.
But a pardon doesn’t mean the conviction is automatically removed from someone’s record – a common misconception the parole board explains at each hearing.
A person’s conviction still shows up on criminal background checks, just with a notation about the gubernatorial pardon.
A man Daniels pardoned in 2005 – a third-year law student – sued to have his robbery conviction and arrest records expunged after the pardon.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in 2007 that courts must, upon request, expunge the conviction records related to a pardon. But it said state law and the Indiana Constitution don’t extend to evidence of an arrest.
A new law that legislators passed in 2011 is likely a quicker, more efficient, way to avoid problems with employment checks. It allows those convicted of nonviolent Class D felonies or misdemeanors to restrict access to their record when the person has remained crime-free for eight years.
Police still have access to the records, but employers can no longer see the history under the law, and Hoosiers can check no on job applications that ask about arrests and convictions.
But a pardon provides a few things other laws can’t.
For instance, several people who received pardons from Daniels sought the opportunity to hunt with their grandchildren. A pardon allowed them to receive a license to carry firearms.
And there are some professional licenses that have limitations when it comes to criminal history, Gentry said.
He noted some countries won’t allow citizens to visit or move there without a formal pardon.
After an independent review, Daniels granted a pardon to Ioan Nicorescu in 2005 to help the Romanian immigrant, who lived in the Dutch Antilles, immigrate to Canada with his wife and family. He had been convicted of misdemeanor disorderly conduct in Lake County in 2002.
Most of the governor’s pardon cases have flown under the radar – largely because they have not been controversial.
Daniels has created his own system for pardons. He starts with nature of offense – staying away from virtually anything involving violence.
The majority of those he has granted – about 25 – have involved stealing; either theft, burglary, receiving stolen property or robbery. A handful of cases have involved possession of drugs, a few drunken driving, a few arson and a few other offenses.
Daniels also considers the amount of time that has passed since the offense – usually considering requests where a great deal of time has passed.
Four of his pardons date to crimes committed in the 1960s, with most crimes coming in the 1980s and 1990s.
It took the monkey off my back that had been there 30 years, said Michael Strickler, a 55-year-old from Adams County who was convicted of burglary back in 1980. After three years’ probation, he became an active member of his community, serving in the Air National Guard, coaching softball and being a dedicated father.
I was a kid when I got in trouble, and I felt like every time I put an application in it was thrown in the trash before I even walked out the door, he said.
It took Strickler about two years to receive the pardon, which was granted in 2007, but he is glad he went through the process.
One of the governor’s final tenets is that the person has to have stayed out of trouble, and often lived an exceptional life, showing much character.
He said some people seeking pardons had served in the military or become missionaries, drug counselors, teachers and firefighters, among other callings.
We’ve had some really touching stories, Daniels said, remembering one woman who stole a pair of shoes for herself and her sister as a teenager and later became a successful Marine. That always gets my attention, if people not only kept their nose clean, but did something really positive and constructive.
Gregory Buchanan also fit that description.
Daniels granted him a pardon in 2008 for his 1994 convictions from Marion County for theft and receiving stolen property.
Since then, Buchanan has dedicated his life to counseling troubled young men. He wanted to move into a new position at the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch in Florida. He has worked there for 14 years, but previously couldn’t participate in some of the activities because of the conviction.
It took almost three years to get his pardon, but he said he is blessed and honored.
I wanted to show these fellows that even though they’ve had a rough start they can work hard and things can turn around for them. They can make something of themselves, said Buchanan, who is now 50. It’s all about a second chance. Anybody can make a mistake. It’s what you do after the mistake that counts.