Saturday, December 23, 2017

Notable Christmastime Clemency / Pardons

George Washington granted the first Christmas Eve pardons in December of 1794, but his decision to relieve two Maryland ship owners from punishments associated with an embargo violation appears to have attracted little or no attention.

On the other hand, Rutherford B. Hayes created a furor when he pardoned controversial writer Ezra H. Heywood on Christmas Eve in 1873. Heywood had been arrested by none other than Anthony Comstock (creator of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and U.S. Postal Inspector extraordinaire) for an “obscenity” violation.

In 1921, Warren Harding moved up the effective date of the commutation of sentence for socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs because Harding wanted Debs "to eat his Christmas dinner with his wife."

Calvin Coolidge pardoned Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives John W. Langley just before Christmas in 1928 and Herbert Hoover did the same for Warren T. McCray, the Republican governor of Indiana, in 1930.

Harry Truman granted controversial pardons to Edward F. Pritchard, Rep. Andrew J. May and Rep. James Parnell Thomas around Christmas and, in 1962, John F. Kennedy granted clemency to Junius Scales and Jake “the Barber” Factor on Christmas Eve. At the time, Scales may have been the most famous former member of the Communist Party in the United States. Barber was a gangland figure turned casino-operator and philanthropist.

As if to top Kennedy, Richard Nixon pardoned Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo in December of 1972. DeCarlo, who was described by the F.B.I. as a "methodical gangland executioner," was eventually imprisoned for extortion.

James R. Hoffa's clemency application (filed only on the 17th of December) was approved in time for Hoffa to be home by Christmas Eve 1971.

George H.W. Bush's decision to pardon former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and five other former Reagan administration officials on Christmas Eve 1992 attracted some public attention as well.

Bill Clinton issued several notable pardons to individuals within two or three days of Christmas. Among them were: Freddie Meeks (the last surviving sailor associated with the Port Chicago incident), Rick Hendrick (legendary race car driver) and former U.S. Representative Dan Rostenkowski, who was indicted on charges of corruption in a House post office scandal but pled guilty to the lesser charge of mail fraud and was sentenced to 17 months in federal prison.

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