Missouri governor leads pardoning movement, granting pardons to more than 200 offenders

Distraught over the breakup of his girlfriend, 16-year-old Kenny Batson took revenge by stamping on the windshield of a car in a subdivision. He was sent to a juvenile detention center, but that was just the beginning of his troubles.

Over the next years, Batson was in and out of prisons and substance abuse treatment programs, stealing cigarettes, booze, and cars and getting drunk. At age 20, he beat a man to near death, stopping only when his friend pulled him away.

Batson, now 50 years old, is a Christian pastor and a forgiven reformer.

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Pastor Kenny Batson stands near a sign displaying service times at Grace Fellowship Church on November 16, 2023 in El Dorado Springs, Missouri. Pastor Batson was convicted of a series of crimes in the 1990s, but after his release he became a Christian minister. prison. He was pardoned by Missouri Governor Mike Parson. (AP Photo/David A. Reeve)

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The governor who pardoned him knows a thing or two about change.

For more than a dozen years as a rural sheriff, Mike Parson was the face of justice, the person ultimately responsible for catching and locking up local lawbreakers. Now, Governor Parsonson has also become the face of mercy, pardoning more than 600 people in the past three years, more than any Missouri governor since the 1940s.

“I still believe in law and order. I still believe that criminals should be treated as criminals and held accountable,” Parson said in an interview with The Associated Press.

But “that doesn’t mean they’re criminals for life,” Parson added. “I think you have to be able to see that.”

The pace of Parson’s pardon in heavily Republican Missouri coincides with a national movement to restore civil rights and honor after serving a criminal sentence. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers (D) recently set a new state record for pardons.

Minnesota also announced this year after the state Legislature revamped the state’s pardon process, allowing pardons to be granted without a unanimous vote by a three-person commission consisting of the governor, attorney general, and chief justice. There is also the possibility of further amnesty. The governor still has to get him one vote out of two.

At the federal level, President Joe Biden pardoned thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession last year and encouraged state governors to do the same.

The movement marks a step back from the tough-on-crime politics of the late 20th century and a return to the early American era, when pardons and commutations were far more common.

Although the process is different, every state allows for some form of leniency. Changing the reading will shorten the length of the sentence. A pardon works similarly to a formal pardon for a crime, restoring rights such as firearm ownership and clearing employment hurdles.

For Batson, the pardon helped erase the felon label and restore his self-esteem. The official document arrived in a manila envelope, more than five years after his wife put together a thick package of recommendations for his pardon application.

“I literally cried and screamed when I got it. It was amazing,” Batson said.

In Missouri, pardon applications are first reviewed by the Probation and Parole Board, which makes confidential recommendations to the governor. There is no deadline for the governor to make a decision.

Parson inherited about 3,700 clemency applications when he was suddenly promoted from lieutenant governor in June 2018 following the resignation of scandal-plagued Republican Gov. Eric Greitens. Some of these lawsuits, including Batson’s, date back to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s tenure. He worked from 2009 to 2017.

Parsons Hospital staff began systematically tackling the backlog in December 2020, even as more applications poured in. They set a goal of evaluating about 100 cases each month, weighing applicants’ work and education history, community involvement, character and level of remorse for their crimes. The type of crime, age of the offender, and time elapsed were also considered when Parsonson made his decision.

To date, Parson has denied approximately 2,400 clemency requests and granted 613 pardons and 20 commutations. This is the most since Republican Gov. Forrest Donnell granted about 1,700 pardons from 1941 to 1945.

In Wisconsin, Evers has granted 1,111 pardons since taking office in 2019, surpassing Republican Gov. Julius Heil’s record of 943 from 1939 to 1943. Mr. Evers’ actions are particularly noteworthy. His predecessor, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, disbanded the Pardons Commission and issued no pardons during his eight years in office.

As a result of Parson’s actions, Missouri is now classified as one of 16 states that grant frequent or regular pardons by the Rights Restoration Project. Margaret Love, executive director of the Collateral Results Resource Center, a nonprofit organization running the project, said a predictable schedule like the one Parson announced each month would help dispel the impression that the process is corrupt. said it could be useful.

“The important thing about regular pardons is that the public begins to trust them and understand what the governor is doing,” said Love, a former Justice Department pardon attorney. Ta.

In Wisconsin, Evers’ pardon announcements are accompanied by a brief summary of each person’s crimes and subsequent accomplishments.

Parson only released the names of those who were granted amnesty. But details of each person’s criminal offenses and the dates and counties of their convictions are included in pardon documents filed with the Secretary of State’s Office and obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

Of those pardoned by Parson, 42% had convictions for drug crimes, 28% for theft and 14% for robbery, according to an Associated Press analysis. The next most common felonies were driving under the influence, forgery, and passing a fraudulent check. On average, nearly 28 years had passed since their last conviction.

Two notable exceptions were Mark McCloskey and Patricia McCloskey. The St. Louis couple who garnered national attention after brandishing guns at racial justice protesters include Mark McCloskey pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of fourth-degree assault and Patricia McCloskey pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of harassment. Parson pardoned him on July 30, 2021, just six weeks after pleading guilty.

At least three people were pardoned for crimes committed in Polk County while Parson served as Polk County Sheriff from 1993 to 2005. These include Pete Anderdal, who went to prison for frequent drunk driving, and Dave Galloway, who was arrested for selling methamphetamine from his home.

Parson was an acquaintance of both men and has since been a customer of Galloway’s locksmith business. But Parson said his hometown connections played no role in the pardon.

Even more important are the testimonies of others, such as the law enforcement officers who raided Galloway’s home and vouched for his changed personality years later.

“When people come together in the community that you live in and start saying things about you and how you’ve changed, it certainly affects me. It affects me too,” Parson said. Told.

Galloway said he applied for clemency in 2010 but heard nothing back for years. He was shocked when his request was granted in 2022.

“It was huge for Governor Parson to look at me and recognize that rehabilitation is real and not just something someone says based on actions and not words,” Galloway said.