Governor Jay Nixon came to St. Louis on Friday for a ceremony celebrating the building of a dental school. And after the event, he finally addressed the topic of granting clemency to Jeff Mizanskey, the man who has been in prison for more than twenty years, serving a life without parole sentence for marijuana charges.
Well, maybe "addressed" is being a bit generous.
A reporter from KMOX (1120 AM) first brought up the Mizanskey case during a Q&A session after the ceremony. Referring to President Barack Obama's recent announcement that he will seek clemency for some nonviolent drug offenders serving excessive sentences in federal prison, the reporter asked Nixon about his views on doing something similar in Missouri. Here's a video of the exchange (apologies for the weird angle):
"Certainly the president is entitled to his opinion, but I'll keep my executive authority vis-à-vis the folks in our district -- that's something we do at the state level," Nixon says. "But we're constantly looking at areas where we can balance, shall we say, the scales of justice, but my sense is that we're busily engaged in the last three weeks of the legislative session on a number of things, but we'll go through our regular process and look through all petitions for clemency, as well as pardons."
Daily RFT then asked Nixon if he believes it is "just" for a person to serve a life without parole sentence for a nonviolent offense. Here's what he said:
"I think each case is separate, and we look at the entirety of their record and their cases, and we have a process in place to review all that," Nixon answered. "So I don't just pick a single act or occurrence out. We look at what the complete history is and we'll give all of these a full and thorough review."
Mizanskey, 61, is now serving his 21st year behind bars for being convicted of three marijuana felonies and charged as a "prior and persistent drug offender," -- a drug-specific three-strike law unique to Missouri. His third and most serious felony was for being involved in a buy for about six pounds of pot.
For more about Mizanskey's clemency efforts, click on the next page...
Mizanskey has requested clemency, and that request has garnered a large amount of support online. A Change.org petition asking Nixon to grant clemency has received more than 360,000 signatures. Mizanskey's son, Chris, and other supporters are planning to symbolically deliver these signatures to the governor in Jefferson City today.
Jeff Mittelhauser, the original prosecutor in Mizanskey's case, told KCTV in Kansas City last week that he would support clemency for Mizanskey -- but only if he admits to the crime. Mizanskey has insisted he did not know a drug deal was going down at the time; only Spanish was being spoken in the hotel room when the deal went down, and Mizanskey claims he was just doing a favor for a friend by giving a ride and was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Police involved in the sting told the Riverfront Times last year that the focus of the sting was a man named Atilano Quintana and it appeared Mizanskey wasn't involved -- at least not to the extent of Quintana, who ended up getting ten years in prison for the deal.
Mittelhauser is more open about his views of the sentence than when he spoke to the Riverfront Times last year and said he would only give his opinion about clemency if the governor asks him. But it appears he would suggest clemency if asked. Phone calls to Mittelhauser's office Friday from Daily RFT were not immediately returned.
Interestingly, Mittelhauser, who initially offered Mizanskey twenty years for his involvement in the Quintana sting, is currently running for judge in Missouri's Division Six. His opponent is Rep. Stanley Cox, who represented Quintana during the Mizanskey case and, as a high-ranking member in the state legislature, has been accused of blocking marijuana-reform bills.
Nixon is among the least generous governors in the country when it comes to granting clemency. During his nearly six years as governor, Nixon has only used this executive power once -- for convicted murderer Richard Clay, whose sentence was commuted from death to life without parole. That case is believed by some to contain prosecutorial misconduct, according to the Post-Dispatch. Nixon was the state attorney general at the time and he appointed attorney Kenny Hulshof to the case.
There are currently thousands of clemency petitions awaiting a response.
Follow Ray Downs on Twitter:
E-mail him at Ray.Downs@RiverfrontTimes.com.