Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gov. Richardson Grants Few Clemency Requests

After quietly granting 19 requests for executive clemency earlier this fall, Gov. Bill Richardson has decided not to consider application packets from 241 other convicts before his term expires on Friday.

As of today, only a pardon request for Billy the Kid is still being considered by the governor.

For the other applicants, who claimed responsibility for their crimes, completed their court-ordered sentences, and begged for the governor’s mercy, the black stain of a criminal conviction will remain on their record.

Public records indicate Richardson has kept his 2009 promise and rejected requests by two death row inmates to have their lethal sentence commuted to life in prison.

The governor has also decided not to act on an application he received from former Santa Fe attorney Carlos Fierro. He was convicted on a vehicular homicide charge while driving drunk in November 2008..

Richardson also rejected a request from former Democratic Party Chairman Ray Sena. He was convicted of vehicular homicide after a Shuttlejack bus he owned crashed while transporting a group of elementary school students back from a ski trip in the Sangre de Cristo mountains in March 1999.

“I believe that requests of this nature must be fully vetted and investigated by the appropriate agencies to ensure that I do the right thing for those who request clemency as well as the citizens of New Mexico,” said Richardson in a news release issued on Wednesday afternoon. “While [I] appreciate the urgency from those who have made last-minute requests for pardons, I do not have adequate time to thoroughly review them before leaving office.”

After returning from a private trip to North Korea earlier this month, Richardson has spent most of his time considering the Billy the Kid pardon and reviewing input from the public that he solicited online.

Big Richardson donor given clemency.

In August, Richardson accepted the recommendations of the Adult Parole Board and State Corrections Secretary to restore citizenship rights to a donor and 88-year-old philanthropist Edward M. Gilbert, a real estate magnate and the founder of Santa Fe company BKG, a group that controls 230 properties in 25 states. His net worth has been estimated to be over $100 million.

Interestingly, Gilbert does not appear to have any criminal convictions in New Mexico. In fact, his clemency file only included information from two cases filed years ago while he still lived in New York.

It’s unclear why Richardson restored rights to Gilbert for crimes he committed out of state.

The governor’s office did not offer an explanation despite multiple calls to his deputies and press secretary.

Reviewing hundreds of applications for executive clemency in the governor's office.

That may be because last week this reporter filed a complaint in the 2nd Judicial District Court (in Bernalillo County) alleging the governor and his staff were violating the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act for blocking access to executive clemency applications first requested on November 11th.

While the lawsuit remains on the docket, the governor’s custodian of public records Marcie Maestas finally allowed SF New Mexican veteran journalist Steve Terrell and this reporter access to the records today in Santa Fe after blocking requests for nearly 50 days.

Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Steve Terrell helps review documents.

With records in hand, we learned that Richardson has only granted clemency to 12 men and 7 women since November 2005. And those individuals only had their citizenship rights restored, which allows them to vote and buy and carry a firearm in some cases.

The 19 approved clemency requests represent a little more than seven percent of the 261 applications received in the governor’s office. Documents reviewed today show Richardson granted eight clemency requests on August 6th. The remainder were granted on November 11th.

Commutation pleas from death row inmates Robert Fry and Timothy Allen were rebuffed by the governor. Their attorneys had argued for the governor to spare their lives after he signed a 2009 law repealing the state’s death sentence. Allen’s attorney even submitted an Executive Order to commute the sentence, but it will not be signed by Richardson.

Governor Elect Susana Martinez campaigned to restore the state’s death penalty. She is unlikely to consider future requests for clemency by Fry and Allen.

Both Fry’s and Allen’s applications included a speech delivered by Governor Toney Anaya in 1986 when he announced his decision to commute the sentences of death row inmates William Wayne Gilbert, Richard Reynaldo Garcia, Michael Anthony Guzman, Joel Lee Compton, and Eddie Lee Adams.

Another applicant who will not receive clemency is Yhoshua Cohen – a Jewish Rabbi convicted of aiding in an escape. He pleaded with Richardson for a full pardon and firearm restoration citing, “I honestly feel that Ms. Martinez will deny my application and I’m ready to move on with my life.”

Prison inmate David Lewis Stone will not get relief despite a sending the governor a handwritten note in January . “I would be greatful [sic] if you could send me not one packet request, but if you could do me a favor and send me (2) two of them as I mess up alot.”

Not everyone was denied.

David Vincent Wohlert, who spent 11 years in federal custody on drug charges received a letter from Richardson just before Thanksgiving notifying him that his citizenship rights would be restored.

“We count it among our Thanksgiving blessings, and our gratitude is profound,” wrote Wohlert in a note to the governor. Wohlert even invited Richardson to stay on his coffee farm in Costa Rica. “You always have a place here.”

Martha Ann Moore will also begin 2011 with a fresh start and a clean record. She wrote a Thank You note to the governor for granting her clemency after clearing tax debts with the IRS that she claims were imposed on her by her former husband in 1993.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for granting me a pardon. After nine years of clearing all those tax debts with the IRS and three state agencies, imposed upon me by my former husband, you have restored my good name,” Moore wrote to Richardson. “I shall never forget your act of kindness.”

Many of the 241 applications were rejected because they were incomplete or requested clemency for misdemeanor convictions. In his denial letters, Richardson wrote, “Unfortunately, a pardon to restore civil rights has no effect regarding conviction for misdemeanors, because a misdemeanor conviction does not negatively affect any of the civil liberties that a pardon restores.”

Most applicants had their petitions for clemency prepared by attorneys and provided certificates they have earned in prison or in school, and included letters of recommendation by employers, friends, church pastors, and in some cases prosecutors and trial judges.

Traffic investigators in Fierro’s vehicular homicide case submitted letters to the governor along with Fierro’s request for clemency stating they believe the accident investigation was biased.

Gabriel Gurule, 26, who was also convicted of vehicular homicide after killing three people in an Albuquerque taxi cab more than five years ago, learned he was not eligible for Commutation of Sentence or other relief because that is only considered in cases of unusual meritorious service of an inmate who has saved the life of a correction department employee or inmate, or assisted in stopping a riot, or secured the release of a hostage in a riot situation.

A large number of clemency requests were submitted by people convicted of drug crimes, some as long ago as the 1960’s. Other’s came from murders, rapists, and check forgers. Many convicts initially asked to be considered for executive clemency, but did not return the required information forms.

Photo and scan credits: MG Bralley

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