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Billy the Kid, still dead, awaits pardon
Governor’s clemency power debated
Question of the Day
A Billy the Kid pardon wouldnt be the only posthumous vindication this month. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist pardoned Doors singer Jim Morrison, who was sentenced to prison for indecent exposure and profanity in 1969, two years before he died.
Ms. Love said such cases as Billy the Kid and Morrison are oddities and exceptions in the justice system.
Though little detailed data on gubernatorial pardons exists, there are comprehensive records on presidential pardons, and they show only two posthumous uses.
President Clinton caught the publics attention in 1999 when he cleared the record of Lt. Henry O. Flipper, the first black graduate of West Point. Flipper, who had been dead for nearly six decades, was dismissed for conduct unbecoming an officer related to a disputed charge of embezzlement. On Dec. 23, 2008, President George W. Bush posthumously pardoned Charlie Winters, who was convicted of violating the U.S. Neutrality Act in aiding Israels War for Independence.
But, as Ms. Love pointed out, in both of these cases, the individuals were proven reputable citizens.
Executives have granted clemency to well-known outlaws in the past. Ed Reed, Bluford Duck, David Anderson (aka Buffalo Bill), Henry Starr and Al Jennings were all cleared of their crimes. Mr. Ruckman suggested that Billy the Kids case is likely receiving attention from the governor purely because of the outlaws prestige.
“Theres this perception that if you have influence and whatnot, you already have an advantage,” Mr. Ruckman said. “In the list of dead people, you do get your Jim Morrisons and your other people of notoriety.”
“If its such a big, important issue, why didnt he do it two years ago, and why did he do it now?” Mr. Ruckman questioned.
Ms. Love, who lauded several governors for improvements they have made in their states’ criminal procedures, said governors should treat their pardon powers seriously, as, in many states, pardon is the only option available for those convicted of crimes to “start over with a clean slate.” Ms. Love estimated that the 15 or so states with functional pardon programs grant anywhere from 30 percent to 60 percent of requests.
“If Gov. Richardson had spent even a quarter of the time addressing the real-life difficulties of the citizens of his state … as he has on this silly publicity stunt, his state would be a lot better off,” Ms. Love said.
But Ms. McGinn disagreed that pardoning Billy the Kid is an outdated action.
“I think it is as important to enforce the principles of the law that are 130 years old as now,” she said.
The federal level also is seeing a widening gap between pardons granted and pardons denied, based on the Department of Justices statistics. Recent presidents have seen some of the highest rates of clemency applications, Ms. Love added.
While earlier American presidents would sometimes grant hundreds of pardons in one swoop, more recent White House residents have done much fewer. George W. Bush granted just 189 pardons, while Barack Obama, nearly two years into his term, has granted just nine.
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