INDIANAPOLIS – The man who said he wants Indiana to be the best place for criminals to get a second chance hasn't given any.
Since taking office in January 2013, Gov. Mike Pence has received 34 recommendations from the Indiana Parole Board regarding pardon petitions.
And he hasn’t granted one.
"I have a heavy bias for respect for due process of law," Pence said. "It’s a high hurdle for me."
He said last year his public safety team didn’t bring him any cases that rose to the level he sought. But he is taking a fresh look this year and expects to make decisions between now and the end of the year.
There is no statutory deadline for Pence to act.
The 34 cases vary greatly, including the recommendations themselves. The Indiana Parole Board voted to grant some, deny some, and some cases had split votes.
But Pence has total discretion on whether to give a pardon.
A pardon is executive forgiveness for a crime that removes penalties and disabilities – such as not being able to get a gun license if you are a felon – 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 at least five years have passed. It is not the same as commuting a sentence or clemency, where a person is let out of jail before a sentence is satisfied.
"I will prayerfully consider recommendations through the prism of what justice demands," Pence said.
Several requests from northeast Indiana are stuck in limbo waiting for action.
One is from Paul G. Napier, who applied for a pardon in January 2012. He was sentenced to four years for possession of a pipe bomb in 1993 in Kosciusko County. His petition said he was pulled over in the middle of the night with a homemade bomb he intended to set off in an open field "to see if it worked."
Attempts to find him in Georgia, where he has served in the National Guard with distinction as recently as 2012, were unsuccessful.
"I used to think I needed a pardon to be successful, but what I have learned is all things are possible through education and hard work," Napier said in his petition. "I understand there is nothing I can do to make up for my poor decisions in the past. What I can say is I will continue living my life as the best husband, citizen and soldier I can be."
While waiting for action on the pardon, the legislature in 2013 passed a comprehensive expungement law allowing offenders to erase old criminal convictions. Napier had his conviction expunged in December 2013.
This year he also filed to seal the arrest record of an earlier 1991 case for reckless homicide and criminal recklessness, which was dismissed in 1992.
According to a news report at that time, Napier – then 19 – was driving a motorcycle that was fleeing police in Kosciusko County. According to police, the motorcycle went airborne when it failed to negotiate a bridge. The motorcycle landed in a drainage ditch with about 6 feet of water. Passenger Kimberly Hicks, 18, drowned.
Pence did not talk about any specific cases. But he said that the new expungement law might be more appropriate for some crimes.
Other things he will take into consideration are whether restitution was made if necessary; if the former offender has been active in the community and has support for the pardon; the nature and circumstances of the crime itself and how much time has passed since the events.
"I think offenses for violent crimes, I would view those with a much higher threshold," Pence said. "But again it’s what justice demands looking at the totality of a person’s life."
Other cases under consideration include that of Adam L. Jackson, who was sentenced to three years for robbery in Allen County in 1999. He said in his petition that two friends of his planned the robbery of a man outside a restaurant, and that he had no knowledge until it occurred.
The judge gave Jackson – who had a pellet gun during the robbery – a minimum sentence because of his young age and remorse.
"I know what I did was wrong. I was shown little mercy for my first offence," he said in his petition. "I have done everything I can to right my wrong doing and only ask for a second chance."
Another man, Charles Dupin, filed for a pardon a few months ago.
He was a Purdue University student in 1985 during the collision that killed one person and injured four others.
"I made a very costly mistake which not only affected the rest of my life, but more importantly, the lives of two families I did not know," Dupin said in his petition. "I have lived with this mistake and will continue to do so for the rest of my life but I come to you today to ask for you to allow me to move on with my life by pardoning my mistake."
Former Gov. Mitch Daniels gave pardons most – but not all years. In total he gave 62 in eight years – far fewer than recommended by the board.
He said his office kept statistics and he had the lowest pardon percentage of any governor.