STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, OCT. 3, 2014…..Gov. Deval Patrick is considering three men for pardons, including two individuals with drug convictions in the 1990s and one who was incarcerated in connection with an armed assault that occurred in 1989.
A pardon is the forgiveness of a crime or penalty, and differs from a commutation which is the lessening of a penalty or prison sentence.
Parole Board Chairman Joshua Wall, who was involved in making the recommendations, disclosed the information Friday during a hearing before the Governor’s Council, which is weighing his judicial nomination. The Governor’s Council must vote on any pardons or commutations recommendations that the governor makes, under the state constitution.
The last time there was a gubernatorial pardon was in 2002 under Acting Gov. Jane Swift, when seven pardons were approved. Since he took office in 2007, Patrick has never recommended pardoning anyone.
“I do have good news to report in that area. There are going to be some,” Wall told the council. Patrick has nominated Wall to serve on the Superior Court, and his nomination has generated support and opposition.
The people recommended for pardons are True-See Allah, 43, who was convicted of armed assault with attempt to murder for his participation in a 1989 shooting – he was not the shooter; Jeffrey Snyder, 43, who was convicted of two drug offenses in 1995 for bringing marijuana to school when he was a high school student; and Edem Amet, 42, a Georgia resident, who was convicted of three drug offenses while he was a college student in Springfield in 1994 and 1995.
Wall said Patrick will “definitely” pardon some people before he leaves office, adding he believes there could be more than three. The Parole Board will make additional recommendations, he said.
Wall said he thinks pardons matter to Patrick, and that pardons and clemency are part of rehabilitation. “That is my belief too,” Wall said.
As the chair of the Advisory Board of Pardons, a function of the Parole Board, Wall is one of the architects of changes to the guidelines that will make it easier for people to get pardons and commutations of their sentences, according to Wall.
On Friday, Wall described the changes to the parole and commutation guidelines when answering questions about parole board rates and the time it takes for parole decisions to be released.
Under the previous guidelines, only someone with a “compelling need” was eligible for a pardon, according to Wall. Typically someone must demonstrate they have a compelling need because of employment, immigration status, or firearms licensure related to employment, according to an attorney for the Patrick administration.
“One of the things that struck me is why do they have to have a compelling reason,” Wall said.
The revamped guidelines will make it possible for someone to receive a pardon if they have made an “extraordinary contribution” in their community, Wall said.
The guidelines around pardons were finalized in January, and guidelines for commutations were finished in July.
Previously, someone who sought a pardon to avoid consequences related to their immigration status would find it difficult to receive a pardon, according to Wall. That changes under the new guidelines.
For example, Wall said, the board recently held a hearing for a man who would have been ineligible for pardon under the old standards because of his immigration status. He has been very involved in his church, and wanted to become a U.S. citizen.
“He applied for citizenship and that’s how people knew he had a criminal record,” Wall said, referring to Amet.
The circumstances around Amet’s request for a pardon stem from his desire to become a U.S. citizen. He is a Liberian citizen who was born in Switzerland, and never lived in Liberia. He seeks a pardon for three school zone drug convictions, according to the pardon recommendation written by the Parole Board Advisory Board of Pardons.
Amet made three sales of crack cocaine to a confidential police informant in June and July 1995, while he was a college student in Springfield, according to the advisory board clemency recommendation. Amet served two years in the Hampden House of Correction. After he was released, he moved out of state, and “successfully reformed his behavior,” the advisory board decision stated.
In the Snyder case, he is seeking a pardon for two drug offenses in the hopes of improving his employment prospects, according to the advisory board decision. As a high school student in 1995, he brought marijuana to school with the intent to sell three or four bags during the day. He was convicted of two crimes – possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in a school zone. He served two years in the Berkshire House of Correction. He now lives in Sheffield with his wife and daughter, and is looking for work, according to the advisory board. He worked for 17 years at the Kolburne residential school in New Marlborough, until it closed in June 2012.
“Snyder paid a very high price for a one-time marijuana offense. He reformed his behavior and had led a productive adult life,” the advisory board wrote in its recommendation decision. “He would like to continue working with young people but it is unlikely to obtain such employment with the marijuana convictions.”
The third person being considered for a pardon is Allah, who was a 19-year-old named Troy Watson in 1989. He was involved in gang-related shooting, according to the Board of Pardons decision. Allah said he went looking for people to help him strike back at rivals that had jumped him, and found a “young kid” who was “chomping at the bit.” Allah was walking back to a car to get a sawed-off shotgun when his partner drew his own gun. The victim, Macarthur Williams, was shot and paralyzed. Allah told the board he met Williams by chance a few years ago, and Williams forgave him.
“True-See Allah has been punished for his crimes, he has been rehabilitated, he has made extraordinary contributions to his community, and a pardon advances the interests of justice,” the advisory board wrote in its decision.
For Allah, the Board of Pardons recommended a conditional pardon, meaning the pardon not include the right to obtain a firearms identification card, “recognizing that Mr. Allah possessed a gun in the commission of a violent offense with serious injury,” the board wrote.
As of April, the advisory board had not given a favorable recommendation since 2009, according to a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. The board has received a total of 605 clemency petitions since 2007, according to Terrel Harris, a spokesman for EOPSS.
Barbara Dougan, the Massachusetts project director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, has been advising people to file petitions for the commutation of a prison sentence this month so that they be considered in “that very short window of opportunity when the governor is leaving office.”
Dougan said the new guidelines appear to lay out a more “streamlined” process.
The additional guidelines for commutations direct the board to “focus” on inmates who “present no current risk of reoffending,” and are serving an “unduly harsh sentence for a non-violent offense,” or serving an “unduly” harsh sentence for being part of a joint venture in a violent crime. The board is also directed to focus on those who have “served a substantial portion” of their sentence and are suffering from a terminal illness or debilitating medical condition.
“We’re absolutely thrilled that the administration is taking this approach,” Dougan told the News Service about the new guidelines. She said, “What we’re telling our folks is they need to get their commutation requests in by the end of the month.”
[Andy Metzger contributed reporting]
Copyright 2014 State House News Service