BOSTON (State House News Service) – Gov. Deval Patrick wants to commute the prison sentence of a woman serving time in a medium security prison for drug offenses, and pardon four men – two who were convicted of drug crimes in the 1980s, a third convicted of robbing a home, and a fourth convicted in 1971 of non-violent property and motor vehicle offenses.
Patrick is recommending the prison sentence of Deanne Hamilton for drug offenses be commuted. Hamilton is serving a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence at the Southern Middlesex Correctional Center in Framingham after a 2009 conviction for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in a school zone.
The Advisory Board of Pardons – an arm of the Parole Board which recommends pardons and commutations to the governor – felt Hamilton is serving a “harsh” mandatory minimum sentence, and should be released because she “presents no risk of reoffending,” according to a Parole Board official.
Hamilton was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years, and served three and a half years before she was freed while her case was on appeal. While awaiting the appeal decision, she “cleaned up” her life and became sober, according to an official with the Parole Board.
The state Appeals Court reinstated Hamilton’s conviction and sent her back to jail in May 2013, where she has been since, according to an attorney for the Patrick administration.
A pardon forgives a crime, and differs from a commutation, which shortens a prison sentence or penalty.
The Governor’s Council, the eight-member panel that votes on all the governor’s judicial nominees, must vote on all pardons or commutations.
In Hamilton’s case, if the council approves the commutation, she would become eligible for parole, and have a parole hearing to determine if she will be released and under what conditions, according to the Parole Board official.
Since he took office in 2007, Patrick has never recommended pardoning anyone, but recently expressed an openness to doing so in his final months in office. The last time there was a gubernatorial pardon was in 2002 under Acting Gov. Jane Swift, when seven people were pardoned.
The people recommended by Patrick 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; and Jeffrey Snyder, 43, who was convicted of two drug offenses in 1995 for bringing marijuana to school when he was a high school student.
Patrick also recommended a pardon for Guy James Coraccio, who in 1971 was convicted of a non-violent property offense and two motor vehicle offenses. One of Coraccio’s crimes, larceny over $250, is a felony that prevented him from renewing a firearms license in 2008. He was a lawful gun owner for more than three decades who participated in shooting competitions, before he was prevented from renewing the license, according to the Parole Board decision. In its decision, the board stated Coraccio has a “substantial period of good citizenship and he has a specific and legitimate need for a pardon that would rectify an unfair result under the law of firearm licensure.”
The board, and Patrick, also recommended a pardon for Thomas Schoolcraft, 29, who was convicted of breaking and entering a home on Plum Island in 2004. He was convicted in 2006, and received a suspended sentence. No one was home at the time of the break-in, according to the Parole Board official, and Schoolcraft has since gone back to school, earning a bachelor’s degree and is currently studying for a master’s degree in criminal justice at Boston University.
The board had previously recommended a sixth candidate – 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. He was not included in the batch Patrick is recommending for pardons, according an attorney for the Patrick administration.
Pardons were once more common in Massachusetts, and some members of the Governor’s Council have expressed disappointment that the governor has not recommended any before now.
With only two months left in office, Patrick decided to move forward with the pardons and one commutation.
Councilor Robert Jubinville said he believes there have not been any pardons in Massachusetts in more than a decade because governors are still haunted by the case of Willie Horton – the convicted felon who was serving a life sentence for murder when he was released on a weekend furlough in 1986 but did not return. After his escape, he raped a woman in Maryland after pistol-whipping, stabbing and gagging her fiancé.
“I think it is clearly a reaction to the Willie Horton issue. I think governors are now a little shy about doing those kinds of things, if it backfires on them they are criticized for it,” Jubinville said.
Although he did not launch the furlough program, Gov. Michael Dukakis came under fire for it during his presidential run in 1988.
“It’s too bad because there are a lot of people in prisons who have worked hard to redeem themselves. They shouldn’t all suffer because of the actions of one or two. Each case is different,” Jubinville said.
The board recommended the pardons to Patrick out of 36 petitions it received in 2014, according to the Patrick administration. The board chose 10 people for pardon hearings.
The board received 74 requests for commutations, and recommended one. Ten commutation requests were denied and 63 still await action or are pending investigation by the board, according to the administration. So far, two people have been granted a hearing.
The advisory board could make additional recommendations to Patrick before he leaves office in January.