A day with the Board of Pardons

If you want to see how one moment at a (usually) young age can ruin your life, an afternoon at the twice-a-year meeting of the Minnesota Board of Pardons provides a lesson on life’s hard lessons. The board — Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Attorney General Lori Swanson, and Chief Justice Lorie Gildea — met today. It was the governor’s final meeting. Twenty-seven people asked the board for a break. Some had good reasons. Some needn’t have bothered to show up. Most got the same answer: “No.”

These — as they say — are their stories (in order of appearance).

Arnold Ashland – “I wouldn’t buy a squirt gun.”

Ashland got robbed twice while working at a Domino’s Pizza. He went to prison for robbing a Domino’s. Three times. “I’m not proud of what I did,” he said. “I haven’t bought a gun since ’92. I wouldn’t buy a squirt gun for my girlfriend’s son.” He said he gives speeches now to convicts just of prison. He coaches softball teams. But he used a gun and AG Swanson says people who use guns, usually don’t get pardons. Denied.

Philip Blatz – “My life has changed.”

“I’m a totally different person,” Blatz said, comparing his life now with theone he had in the mid-’70s when he was convicted of burglary and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. He’s off the drugs and booze. He volunteers with the American legion, raising money for Special Olympics and Wound Warriors, he said. “He’s a good man,” his sister, Jane said. But he also had several drunk driving arrests. “I made a bad decision to get some cigarettes,” he told Swanson. Granted.

James Brady – “I was so embarrassed.”

He was convicted of third-degree burglary in Hennepin County in 1959 . It was a long time ago, unless you want to get a job as a greeter at WalMart. “I was denied” when WalMart did a background check. “I was so embarrassed. This has been hanging over my head for years.” Granted.

Marc Brandt II – “I drove them there.”

A robbery conviction at age 17 in Ramsey County in 1995 may cost him his dream of becoming a cop. He drove a car used in a robbery. But he says he stayed in the car when his friends beat someone up in the robbery. He might’ve gotten his pardon if he hadn’t struggled with a question from Gildea: “Was it your fault?”

“It was a random group act,” he said.

“Do you accept responsibility?” she asked again. “It sounds like you’re blaming the people you were with.”

“I drove them there. I agree with that” he said after a long pause.

He wanted to get in the law enforcement program at Century College and become a community service officer. But he can’t. Not with the robbery on his record.

“I’m a witness to his life and I couldn’t be more proud,” his wife said. The story of his life now made Brandt the kind of guy you could root for. All he had to do was say “yes.” When his request was denied, he put his head on the table.

Larry Farrow – ” I didn’t spit on her.”

Farrow has been through treatment, sponsors others and says his conviction on violating an order of protection is “showing up” whenever he tries to get a job.

“You have a criminal sexual assault arrest in 1990 involving an ex-girlfriend in Mower County, ” Gov. Pawlenty said. “It says you approached her car, broke a key in the ignition, grabbed her breast, and spit on her.”

“I didn’t spit on her,” Farrow said.

“Did you break the key?” the governor asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“Did you touch her?”

“The window was open,” Farrow said.

“Did you touch her?”

“Yes.”

“And now you want a pardon?” the governor said.

“I’m not going to argue. You’re the governor. You have friends in high places,” Farrow said.

“It’s not real complicated,” the governor said. Denied.

Jonathan Hiatt – “Sometimes you have to go to hell to get to heaven.”

Hiatt quoted the Steve Miller Band while relaying the effects of his untreated mental illness which led to an assault conviction in 1997, and numerous hospitalizations. The victim was his mother. “I slapped her,” he acknowledged. He’s held some jobs and just got a seasonal retail job at the Mall of America. He wants to become a “recovery specialist.” He volunteers at his church.

“I’ve never been prouder of my brother,” his brother said. He asked the board to approve a pardon to give his brother a needed morale boost.

Gov. Pawlenty’s wife, Mary, was the sentencing judge. Denied.

Charlene Hopela – “I’m sorry for the thoughtless act.”

A 1980 theft conviction in Hennepin County has been followed by 30 years of a lawful life, she said. She was a stay-at-home mom in St. Cloud, but has tried to return to work. “This is what it means to be exemplary,” Gildea said. Granted.

Ashley Kadlec – “I have improved myself.”

Convicted in Houston County of misdemeanor theft in 2004, Kadlec wants to be a nurse but can’t get into the nursing program with a conviction. “I want the degree I’ve worked so hard for,” she said. “I want it to be known that I have improved myself.”

“Are you a Packers or a Vikings fan?” Pawlenty asked.

“I refuse to answer,” she said.

“What cuts against you is it wasn’t that long ago,” Swanson said. This is a theme that would reoccur through the afternoon. Time must pass for people who are running out of time to get their lives on track again. Granted.

Timothy Larcom – “Daddy’s been shot!”

Larcom was convicted of aggravated assault for the robbery and shooting of a Ramsey County farmer for whom he worked in 1974. He said he lost his brother while he was in prison. He’s worked for the St. Cloud Children’s home, wants to be a firefighter but can’t get credentials, and has worked with “hard core juvenile offenders,” pointing out several times that “a lot of these programs are no longer funded.”

He was going to drive an ambulance for Gold Cross in St. Cloud, “but they said at a meeting , ‘if you have any felonies or convictions, you might as well leave now,'” he said. So he left.

“I have a wonderful life,” he said, “but even if I wanted to donate my time, I can’t even do that.”

“‘Daddy’s been shot!’ were the words I heard in 1974,” countered the daughter of the farmer who was shot and survived. But her mother shot and killed herself six weeks later. “Our lives were forever changed. I hold Timmy Larcom responsible. It’s offensive that he’s asking for a pardon.”

Denied.

Timothy Leland – “I need to find a job.”

Leland volunteers with youth sports groups, the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts, he told the Board. He received his GED since the 1977 theft conviction. He closed a business he started because of the economy “I need to find a job.”

“I’ve seen him struggle to find a job,” his tearful wife said, “and struggle because of a lack of self confidence.”

Granted.

Craig Lothert – “I don’t want to be known as the felon in my family”

“These felonies have been thrown in my face, even though they happened a long time ago,” Lothert said of his 1996 convictions on burglary charges in 1996, between his junior and senior year in high school. “I wash dishes, work at food shelves, I pick up garbage,” he said.

His mother, Gloria, said he has a learning disability and Tourette Syndrome. He broke into a church and stores after breaking up with a girlfriend. “He wasn’t stable,” she said.

“It’s a very difficult case,” Gildea said, repeating that it’s only been 12 years since the case was “discharged.” Denied.

Robert Lounsbury – “My wife ransacked the place.”

Lounsbury says he’s been law-abiding for the last 12 years. He was convicted of accessory to third-degree burglary in 1997. He was drunk, he said. He, too, tried to get a job at WalMart, only to fail a background check.

“Why did you break in to the home?” Attorney General Swanson asked.

“It was open,” Lounsbury said. “My wife ransacked the place and put stuff in my car. I had nothing to do with stealing.”

“You blame other people?” Gildea asked.

“No, I’m blaming me. I was drinking,” he said.

“This isn’t a case of someone being young and exercising bad judgment,” Gov. Pawlenty said. “This is a 45-year old behaving like a young drunk.” Denied.

Roseline Maclean – “I will try to stay clean.”


Maclean, married with two children, was denied her application for citizenship because of a theft conviction in Stearns County in 2004. Though she has completed her general coursework at Metro State, she’s been unable to get into the nursing program. She volunteers at church, but her application to volunteer in the nursery was denied, and she was rejected when she tried to volunteer at her daughter’s school.

“You were convicted of fraud in 2004, and driving violations in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2009,” Gov. Pawlenty noted. “It seems like you have a hard time being law abiding.”

“That’s why I’m in school, but it’s hard right now,” she said. “I will try to stay clean.” Denied.

Richard Magee

A single dad who works full-time, Magee said he was unable to get letters of recommendation from anyone but his mother. He was convicted in 1985 of theft, but there was also a question from the Board about missing some court dates. He also failed to pay child support (“I was out of work.”). Denied

Peter Nayquonable – “I want to better myself.”

He was convicted in a Mille Lacs County court of theft in 1998. Since then, he’s finished St. Cloud State University, and works for Alliance Bank. “There are only 3 males in our tribe who have four-year degrees,” his brother, John said. “He’s one of them.”

Nayquonable was arrested an Applebee’s for a bad check during a previous visit. More recently, he got a job offer, but it was rescinded three days later. “It was crushing,” he said. “I want to better myself.” Granted.

Idman Omar

Her attorney did the talking. She accepted assistance checks for $1,000 she was eligible for. She arrived in the country in 1999, according to her attorney. “She had trouble understanding, had just given birth to twins, and she needed the income.” Granted.

Todd Oslund – “I know what I did was bad”

“I know what I did was bad,” Oslund said of his 1984 burglary in Dakota County. Like many others who appeared before the Board, alcohol was part of the reason. He’s had several DWIs since. “We want to see more time,” Pawlenty said. “Your last DWI doesn’t give me confidence.” Denied

Gary Peckels – “They look at me like I’m a terrorist.”

“I can’t get a job,” he told the board. After his conviction on reckless use of a firearm and domestic assault in Anoka County, he went back to school to learn computers, then worked as an appraiser, and then a real estate agent. He volunteers with Meals on Wheels and organized coat drives for kids.

He’s been a trucker. “I’ve got over 3 million miles accident free over 40 years,” he said. But background checks prevent him from getting any more work. “They look at me like I’m a terrorist,” he said.

He says he’d been driving for 24 hours in a blizzard from Chicago when he got home, opened a beer, and had an argument with his wife.

“Did you point a gun?” Gildea asked.

“I grabbed it. But it doesn’t make any difference; it wasn’t bolt action,” he said.

“We’re not granting pardons for violence and gun cases,” Pawlenty said. Denied.

Terry Petersen – “I feel like I’m the victim.”

If you fire two shots at a dog with a high-powered rifle, and kill a three-year-old girl you didn’t know was there, it’s probably best not to tell the Board of Pardons that you feel like a victim.

“I was only trying to scare a dog,” he said.

He complained that he’s been denied being a mentor for Big Brother. “Even the local gun association doesn’t want me there,” he said.

The Crow Wing County Attorney called the case “the worst I’ve ever been around. The family opposed the manslaughter (plea bargain) because they were told it was a penalty felony that would prevent him from owning guns.”

“I’ll never forget the look on her face as she turned the instant the first shot missed,” a statement from the girl’s mother said. “There was no time. The second shot was a kill shot. ”

“He wants a pardon so he can purchase a gun and go hunting with his grandchildren. How can he even ask that? He should have thought about the consequences.”

Denied.

Kristen Pollock – “It’s going to hold me back.”

Pollock was 19 when she got into a fight with her 17-year-old sister, who had a knife. She was convicted of disorderly conduct and fifth-degree assault in 2001. “It’s going to hold me back,” she told the Board. She wants to go into nursing and mortuary science, but background checks prevent it.

“I want to go into a field where I can help people, and it’s just not going to happen with this,” she said.

Pawlenty seemed inclined to give her a break, but Gildea resisted. “I’m not satisfied that you meet the higher standard. There might be a day to prove your character, but today is not that day,” she said. Denied.

Marcia Powell — “I did it.”

Powell killed a woman in 1975. “I was a young girl with three kids, and scared to death. I told police, ‘I did it,’ and waited for them to come take me in.” She has Parkinson’s and says she needs money to live but can’t “get some things done” without a pardon.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her three kids and my six. I have two about to graduate college with children of their own. I’ve watched what you’ve done today and I know my case is few and far between. Hopefully I can spend the rest of my life trying to make up for what I did.” Denied.

Theresa Schmit – “It was my fault.”

In 1988, Schmit was convicted of shoplifting in Stearns County. She worked at KMart, but was laid off when it closed. She graduated from St. Cloud State in 2009. She volunteers at the St. Cloud VA hospital. She told the Board she handles confidential information. “I tried to prove I’m an honest person,” she said.

“Seeing her struggle with the past is an inspiration,” her son said.

Granted.

Brent Skaja – “I come from a family of well-educated, law-abiding people.”

This might’ve been the most heartbreaking decision of the day. Skaja got into a fight in a nightclub in St. Cloud in 1997. “I was young (22), I just got out of the service, and I was drinking,” he admitted. He had intended to use the GI Bill to become a teacher, like his parents and his grandfather.

“I couldn’t get a job,” he said. He was turned away from Officer Candidate School with the National Guard. He got some jobs in sales after graduating from St. Cloud State in 2001. “I come from a family of well-educated, law-abiding people,” he said in tears.

He says he’d like to have children but because of the conviction, he wouldn’t be able to participate in “scouting, athletics, or activities.”

Asked by Justice Gildea what he’s learned, he said “Self control. Taking responsibility. And anger management.”

“There might be a day when you convince us,” Gildea said, repeating an earlier statement, “but today isn’t that day. Denied.

Skaja’s birthday is Wednesday.

Paul Soderquist

“Here I am,” Soderquist said as he sat down to ask for a pardon on his conviction of violating an order for protection. He then answered questions about his chemical dependence in several DWIs. Denied.

Douglas Sorenson

Sorenson was working in Preston when it started to snow. He didn’t have a car and a Good Samaritan stopped to pick him up. He stole the car at knifepoint. “I want to be able to get a better job,” he told the Board, which denied his request.

  • Aaron

    Amazing insight Bob. That 16 hour work day paid off!

  • LK

    Great reporting.

  • Chris

    Bob–am I understanding correctly that these individuals have already served their time in prison or paid whatever fees were assessed to them?

    What is the point of the justice system if your past actions haunt you (stop you from finding work) even after you have met society’s obligations?

    Some of these folks did horrible things–and it sounds like some of them mainly just made some unfortunate mistakes.

    From everything I know about them, Pawlenty, Swanson, and Gildea are not the most sympathetic people out there. Good luck to all the applicants, whether they were deemed “worthy” or not.

  • Bob Collins

    Yes, they have all served their time or paid their penalties. I think the theory is that this is part of the penalty for committing a crime.

    But, you’re right, I couldn’t help but think while listening to some of these stories, “holy ****, if I’d gotten caught doing stupid things when I was a kid, I’d be in the same spot.”

  • Jeff

    Wow. Powerful. Thank you.

    I bet that most people think that, after you do your time for your crime, that your life can return to normal again. Not so. You can’t even get a job as a Walmart greeter. Perhaps if more people knew this there would be fewer crimes committed.

  • Hannah

    I was at this meeting on Tuesday as a member of the victim’s family in the Timothy Larcom case. I thank Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Attorney General Lori Swanson, and Chief Justice Lorie Gildea for their wise decisions in the 9 appeals I witnessed. I felt that they were very sympathetic and thoughtful in the questions they asked the applicants. They did take youthful indiscretions into account in some of the cases if the offender showed evidence of changed behavior.

    Although Mr. Larcom, the person who orchestrated the armed assault against my Grandfather in 1974 was young at the time his request for a pardon extraordinary was denied. I was surprised at his seeming lack of remorse for the crime that he had committed. He seemed indignant that he was suffering some inconveniences in his life. Taking a gun to a premeditated crime is not an example of a youthful indiscretion and Mr. Larcom should continue to be held responsible for his violent actions. Our family is pleased that justice has been served.

  • Jonathan Hiatt

    My comments to the Board, as well as those of my brother, Chris, were taken COMPLETELY out of context, for starters. This is the sort of sensationalist, yellow journalism I would expect from a cut rate news source, not MPR.

    Furthermore, your commentary fails to acknowledge that the victim actually wrote a letter IN SUPPORT OF the applicant’s motion. Not to mention that the applicant had the support of numerous community and mental health professionals.

    Acknowledging that one’s prior mental health crises played a role in unlawful conduct is no cop out. 1 in 5 families are affected by mental illness and 1 in 17 adults struggle with it in the state of Minnesota, according to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Rather, it takes a great deal of courage. Your biased reporting does nothing to eradicate the stigma associated with such disclosure, let alone having a form of mental illness.

    My case SHOULD prove a CAUTIONARY tale and is symptomatic of a VERY broken system whereby persons with mental illness only begin to receive the help they need in turning things around when they find themselves involved in the criminal justice system. My case is by no means unique in that regard.

    I certainly don’t need the Board’s sanction—-or that of the narrow-minded ilk who listen to your station or the staff who work there—in order to go about my life.

  • Jonathan Hiatt

    Moreover, I should say that it is REALLY SAD that your reporter reduces what are some complex cases to a one paragraph biased summary, not to mention goes out of his way to make people (such as my brother) look like f***ing idiots by means of taking one’s words completely out of context. And what an insult to suggest that one seeks a pardon for a “morale boost.” Get a life, Mr. Collins!