Monday, January 2, 2012

The Top Ten Clemency Stories of 2011

10. The West Memphis Three - The Three served almost 18 years before a plea deal allowed for their release. But, Governor Mike Beebe - one of the Nation's most steady dispensers of gubernatorial clemency - announced that he had no intention of granting a pardon. And he will only grant a pardon if there is "compelling evidence" that "someone else was responsible" for the murders the men were accused of.

9. 100,000 Application Backlog in Florida - The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a group which aims to have the State's Board of Executive Clemency "simplify" (and speed up) the application process estimates a backlog of 100,000 applications!

8. December Clemency - A study published by the author of this blog, in White House Studies, shows that 1 of every 2 pardons and commutations of sentence granted over the last 39 years has been granted in a single month: December.

7. Biden on Pollard - Vice President Biden does the old good cop bad cop send it up the flag routine re Jonathan Pollard. The White House spends the rest of the year qualifying, backtracking and saying, "Well, you know how crazy old Joe is!"

6. National Archives Pardon Scandal - A notable Lincoln expert is linked to the alteration of a clemency warrant in the National Archives. And you think research is boring stuff !

5. The Case of Kelly Williams-Bolar - Gov. John Kasich commuted the sentence of Kelley Williams-Bolar, who was convicted on felony charges for falsifying information in order to send her children to Copley-Fairlawn City Schools instead of Akron City Schools.

4. Hollywood Fumble I - Ken Burns makes a film on the Prohibition Era and fails to even mention that President Wilson vetoed the Volstead Act, then set records for presidential pardons, many of them granted to persons who violated the National Prohibition Law.

3. Hollywood Fumble II - Robert Redford's film, The Conspirator leaves is quite unclear whether or not the Director understood the dynamics of mercy in the case of Mary Surratt (the first female executed by the Government). The Military Board recommended a commutation of the death sentence to life in prison. But President Andrew Johnson claimed he never saw that recommendation. The presiding judge said Johnson did see it. Regardless, Surratt was not supposed to be hanged and no one thought that she would be (the intent was to draw her son out of hiding). Redford says nothing of the network of horse riders set up to deliver a last-minute pardon or of the complete shock in the aftermath of a female

2. Obama's First Commutation of Sentence - President Obama becomes the slowest Democratic president in history to grant a commutation of sentence.

1. The Department of Justice Audit of the Office of the Pardon Attorney - The Obama Justice Department, most notable for its lack of mercy, decided to "audit" the clemency process under the administration of George W. Bush. The result was a mighty unimpressive, but elaborate amount, of hand wringing regarding how long it took clemency applications to be "processes" at various points along the path to final decision. The conclusion was that many applications are "held up" in the Department's bureaucracy and/or at the White House! Who would have guessed?

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