As 2 felons earn pardons, time for others runs short
Patrick to leave office on Thursday
The Governor’s Council voted to pardon two convicted felons Friday in what are probably the last pardons granted under Governor Deval Patrick, who leaves office Thursday.
In 2014, about 70 people filed petitions for pardons, but only four received the approval of Patrick, who established new guidelines last year that were supposed to make it easier for people to qualify.
True-See Allah, a former gang member convicted for attempted murder, and Thomas Schoolcraft, a New Hampshire man convicted of breaking and entering as a teenager, will see their records wiped clean following the vote by the council, which has the final say on petitions for pardons.
Dozens more petitions are pending, along with requests for commutation by prisoners who hope the new guidelines will help shorten their sentences.
Following the council’s vote, Patrick said he would have liked to approve more petitions.
“I’m not hinting at anything, but there may be still some recommendations that the [Parole Board] will send up to me,” Patrick said in a brief interview.
The state Parole Board, acting as the Advisory Board of Pardons, reviews petitions and hears cases deemed to meet the governor’s guidelines.
Should Patrick recommend any other petitions for commutations or pardons, the eight-member Governor’s Council would want to hold a hearing before voting. The chances of a hearing and a vote happening before Charlie Baker is sworn in next Thursday are slim, however, according to members of the council.
Any of Patrick’s recommendations become obsolete once Baker has been sworn in, according to the governor’s council.
Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, said many inmates and people with criminal records were hopeful for relief after years of denials by other governors.
Patrick approved the commutation of Deanne Hamilton, a 49-year-old convicted drug dealer, in November. He has approved no other commutations. The last governor to recommend reducing a prisoner’s sentence was William Weld in 1998.
“The urgency was with this governor,” Walker said. “Of course I am delighted for the people who received pardons. I’m disappointed that the ability to realistically obtain them came so late in the Patrick administration.”
A spokesman for Baker has said that the governor-elect plans to review any recommendations from the board for clemency or pardons.
Any petitions pending from 2014 can still be approved by the advisory board of pardons after Patrick leaves office.
But legal observers have said they doubt a new governor under intense scrutiny would want to act on a politically charged issue like pardons for former convicts and commutations for prisoners.
Councilor Terrence Kennedy said he would be willing to hold a hearing and vote on any recommendations from Patrick before he leaves.
The council is not required to hold a hearing and could just vote to expedite the process, but Kennedy said the panel would demand it.
“I think it’s important we have a hearing because that way we can have all the information to vote appropriately and vote intelligently,” he said.
The state advisory board recommended five people for pardons over the past year.
In September, the board voted in favor of Edem Seth Amet, a 39-year-old Liberian man living in Georgia, who was convicted of selling crack cocaine in 1995 to a confidential police informant.
Now a 42-year-old store manager at Office Max, Amet’s record means he cannot become a US citizen. He can work in the country legally, but told the board he fears deportation.
In their recommendation, the board stated Amet’s years of good citizenship following his conviction and his desire to become a citizen made him a good candidate for a pardon.
But by Friday, Patrick had not acted on Amet’s case.
Asked why, Patrick appeared confused and said he had not seen his petition. Told the board had sent it to his office, Patrick responded: “Well, that may be, but I don’t remember that name.”
The Governor’s Council voted 7 to 1 on Friday to grant a pardon to Allah, who was convicted for his role in a 1989 shooting that paralyzed Mac- Arthur Williams Jr.
The pardon for Allah, who is now a respected peace activist who works with gang members, was recommended by high-ranking police officers and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, whose office once prosecuted him.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Allah, who sought a pardon so he could be eligible for more career opportunities in law enforcement. “It’s a new lease on life altogether.”
Williams died four years ago of bladder cancer, a condition that doctors told his family probably came about because of his paralysis.
Williams’s widow, Damequa Williams, went to Allah’s hearing where she told the council she forgave him. But she emphasized that she was not there to recommend his pardon.
“That choice was for the council to make,” Williams said Friday in a telephone interview following the vote. “I forgive him for myself just so that I’m not carrying any grudges or baggage.”
The council also voted 5 to 3 to grant a pardon to Thomas Schoolcraft, who was convicted of breaking and entering and is now pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice at Boston University.
In December, the council approved the pardons of Jeffrey Snyder, who was convicted of marijuana distribution in the 1990s, and Guy James Coraccio, who was convicted of larceny and motor vehicle infractions more than 40 years ago.
The issue of pardons in Massachusetts gained national attention in November, when Hollywood actor and Dorchester native Mark Wahlberg filed for a pardon of his assault and battery convictions when he was a teenager.
The advisory board has not granted him a hearing yet.