Army National Guard Sergeant John B. Melson has taken fire from the Taliban and survived roadside bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq, exploits that led to five Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.
He has stood in the field at Gillette Stadium, the recipient of the New England Patriots “True Patriot” salute, for his heroics in the military and at home. He once saved the life of a motorcyclist struck by a drunken driver by applying a tourniquet to his bleeding leg.
But for most of his adult life, the 43-year-old Boston native has been dogged by a dark mark on his record: a 1997 conviction for kidnapping, the result of a dispute with his girlfriend.
After serving his sentence, he enlisted in the military.
The only way to clear his record and obtain true job security is a pardon from the governor. But with the election of Governor Charlie Baker, his chances, and the chances of dozens of others, have become uncertain.
For the moment, the process is at a standstill.
Baker withdrew the guidelines that his predecessor, Deval Patrick, put in place in 2014 that made it easier for people to erase their criminal records through pardons. Baker has no timeline yet for when he will institute his own guidelines.
“Applications remain pending, however people may be given an opportunity to amend their applications or withdraw and resubmit once new guidelines are instituted,” Bill Pitman, a spokesman for Baker, said in an e-mail.
No pardon hearings have been held by the State Parole Board, which also acts as the Advisory Board of Pardons, since Patrick left office Jan. 7. Pitman said that until Baker announces his new guidelines, there is no reason for the Parole Board to act on any pending applications.
Historically, pardons are rarely granted at the beginning of a governor’s term, when they are under especially close scrutiny. Political observers say many new governors fear the political implications of granting pardons to people with criminal records.
Melson, a father of two, said he remains hopeful the state will give him the opportunity to make his case.
“I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else,” Melson said. “At least give me a consideration.”
Seventy-six people applied for pardons in 2014 and late 2013, near the end of Patrick’s second term as governor. Sixty-eight of them are men, according to a review of the applications, and more than half of the applicants are older than 50. Twenty-one percent reported having a military background and 38 percent said they went to college or hold a master’s or doctoral degree.
Applicants run the gamut from people who committed crimes decades ago to inmates still serving long sentences for a serious offense such as attempted murder and rape.
Among those with a pending application is actor Mark Wahlberg, who has stated he wants to be pardoned for the 1988 assault of a Vietnamese man on a Dorchester street.
Eight people were denied hearings outright. The parole board decided that their crimes were too violent to merit a pardon, or the applicant had not demonstrated that he has turned his life around.
Eleven people were granted hearings in 2014 and five of them received favorable recommendations from the board for pardons. Only four ultimately received pardons.
Fifty-nine applications remain pending.
Pauline Quirion, a lawyer at Greater Boston Legal Services who helps people coming out of prison, said she often advises clients to have their records sealed rather than to seek a pardon. Sealing a record is a less public process and pardons are harder to come by, she said.
“I don’t see a lot of pardons being granted,” Quirion said. “When I have seen it, it’s at the end of [a governor’s] term. It’s unfortunate that politicians are afraid of being labeled soft on crime because there are instances where justice would be served by granting pardons. People can change over time.”
Having a record sealed does not erase a criminal record, but it can prevent employers from easily finding out about a person’s past. It cannot, however, help anyone who is being threatened with deportation because of a prior conviction or needs a license to carry a gun, become a nurse or police officer, or open a bar. And employers can still find out about a person’s record by hiring investigators to review court records or FBI databases.
For Melson, questions about his past continue to surface nearly 20 years after his crime. In the military, he had to hire a private attorney to prove he did not commit fraud when he applied for the National Guard. His record keeps him from other jobs he would love to pursue, such as being a firefighter.
“I am desperately seeking a consideration for a pardon because I do not want my ability to continue military service to be jeopardized,” he wrote to the board. “I live with regret every day.”
Other applicants listed myriad reasons for seeking relief:
A 59-year-old Framingham father of two who runs a driving school said he will be deported to Brazil if he is not pardoned for violating a restraining order in 1996.
“If I am deported it will be a disaster for my family and my employees,” he implored.
One 46-year-old trash operator once arrested for malicious destruction of property just wanted his name cleared.
One Arizona man in his 60s said his OUI arrest keeps him from getting a driver’s license.
“Now I live in a desert hamlet, dependant on others for rides to the grocery store and feel more lonely,” he wrote.
Cynthia Kussy-Goldberg is one of the eight women who applied for a pardon. In 2010, she was found guilty of embezzling more than $750,000 from her former company, where she worked as an accountant.
Prosecutors said she stole the money to fund a lavish lifestyle.In her letter to the parole board, Kussy-Goldberg said she fell down an “abyss of corporate corruption.”
Now 52 and living in Westborough, she started the F8 Foundation, a nonprofit that she said helps people leaving the prison system. She said she makes no money from the work and supports herself with freelance marketing.
Kussy-Goldberg said she would love a job as an accountant that would help support her new organization, but she has been denied employment or fired when employers checked her criminal record.
“There are no words to tell you how awful it feels,” Kussy-Goldberg said. “Everybody and the look on their faces . . . You went to prison but should it follow you the rest of your life? I don’t think it should follow you the rest of your life.”