Monday, December 28, 2009

West Virginia: Bah Humbug!

This article asserts that, "while United States presidents from George Washington on have used the Christmas season as a backdrop to issue pardons, West Virginia governors do not." The source of the information? State Archivist Debra Basham. Basham has discovered, for example, that Gov. Herman Kump issued 108 pardons in 1993, but only eight were issued by Gov. Howard Gore in 1925 and 46 issued by Gore in 1926. In 1964, Gov. Wally Barron issued five pardons, compared to none in1963.

That is to say, the article provides aggregate (as opposed to monthly) data. Brilliant.

The piece also notes - erroneously - that "Presidential pardons started with George Washington, who authorized a proclamation of amnesty in 1795 for participants in the Whiskey Rebellion." But insists, that "even when West Virginia had the death penalty [few] governors commuted sentences to life, but none did so on Christmas."

With this foundation for expertise, the piece then suggests former Gov. Arch Moore "likely issued the most infamous pardon in West Virginia history." The recipient was Eugene Blake - See PardonPower post on this case here. Blake was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. But Gov. Moore acted against the advice of a Board and made him eligible for parole. Blake was paroled in 1979 and later charged with two more murders and rape. The most famous pardon in the entire history of West Virginia? Hmmm. PardonPower is withholding judgement on that one.

Matt Turner, "spokesman" for Gov. Joe Manchin, to the rescue. Turner says the governor makes no special provisions for Christmas-time pardons because it is "policy" to "evaluate clemency requests year-round." Indeed, if anything, Christmas-time may be ineligible for pardons. As Jonathan Deem, general counsel for Gov. Joe Manchin notes, in his three years at the capitol there have been no Christmas pardons issued.

Turner says the governor gets 50 to 100 pardon requests a year but only considers pardons for those convicted of "non-violent offenses occurring some time ago and who live a non-violent lifestyle." Applications and character witnesses are submitted to a parole board which reviews the request and makes recommendations to the governor. And, says Turner, "The governor generally follows the recommendation of the board."

Update: PardonPower finds that, over the last 36 years, nine West Virginia governors have granted 121 full and complete pardons, 300 conditional pardons and 641 reprieves. Wasn't Mary "Mother" Jones pardoned in West Virginia?

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