Missouri Governor Records More Than 600 Pardons in 3 Years

Gavel with open book and scales on table

By The Vanguard Staff

JEFFERSON CITY, MO – Former rural sheriff and now Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has somehow become the “face of mercy,” according to an Associated Press account, after pardoning more than 600 people in the past three years.

Parson told the AP, “I still believe in law and order. I believe criminals need to be treated as such, and they’ve got accountability,” adding that “it doesn’t mean they’re a criminal all their life,” Parson added. “I think you’ve got to be able to look at it.”

“Parson’s pardoning pace in Republican-heavy Missouri coincides with a national movement to restore citizens’ rights and reputations after they have served criminal sentences. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, recently set a new state record for the number of pardons,” writes the AP.

And Minnesota could record more pardons after the Legislature this year revised the state’s clemency process to allow for pardons without unanimous votes by a three-person board composed of the governor, attorney general and chief justice, said AP.

President Joe Biden last year pardoned thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession and encouraged governors to do the same, wrote AP, noting, “The movement marks a step back from the tough-on-crime politics of the late 20th century and a return to an earlier American era when pardons and commutations were much more common.”

Associated Press explained every state allows some form of clemency, noting, “Commutations shorten the length of sentences. Pardons function like official forgiveness for crimes, restoring rights such as the ability to own firearms and clearing hurdles for employment.” 

Parson inherited nearly 3,700 clemency applications when he was suddenly elevated from lieutenant governor following the resignation of scandal-plagued GOP Gov. Eric Greitens in June 2018, said the AP, adding “Some of those cases, including Batson’s [now-Pastor Kenny Batson, former prisoner], dated to the tenure of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who served from 2009-2017.”

“Parson’s staff began systematically tackling the backlog in December 2020, even as more requests poured in. They set a goal of evaluating around 100 cases each month, weighing applicants’ work and education history, community involvement, character references and contrition for their crimes. The types of crimes, how young offenders were and how much time had passed also came into play as Parson made his decisions,” wrote AP.

Parson has denied about 2,400 clemency requests while granting 613 pardons and 20 commutations. That’s the most since Republican Gov. Forrest Donnell granted almost 1,700 pardons from 1941-1945.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers has granted 1,111 pardons since taking office in 2019, surpassing the record of 943 set by Republican Gov. Julius Heil from 1939-1943, said AP, adding “Evers’ actions are particularly notable because his predecessor, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, had disbanded the pardons board and issued no pardons during his eight years in office.”

Parson’s monthly announcements can help dispel impressions that the process is corrupt, said Margaret Love, executive director of the nonprofit Collateral Consequences Resource Center, which runs the project.

“The thing about regular pardoning is the public comes to have confidence in it, and they understand what the governor is doing,” said Love, a former pardon attorney for the U.S. Justice Department, to the AP.

Of those granted clemency by Parson, 42 percent were convicted of drug crimes, 28 percent for theft and 14 percent for burglary, according to an AP analysis. The next most common felony convictions were for driving while intoxicated, forgery and passing bad checks. On average, nearly 28 years had passed since their last convictions. 

“Two notable exceptions were Mark and Patricia McCloskey. The St. Louis couple who gained national attention for waving guns at racial injustice protesters were pardoned by Parson on July 30, 2021, just six weeks after Mark McCloskey pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fourth-degree assault and Patricia McCloskey pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment,” wrote AP.

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