As far as late Christmas presents go, Governor Jay Nixon's decision to pardon nine nonviolent offenders is as big and unprecedented as they come.
But for a governor who, before Monday, has pardoned only one person since taking office in 2009, the list of formerly naughty Missourians is arguably more notable for the name it doesn't include.
While the eight men and one woman Nixon pardoned yesterday already served their sentences for felony and misdemeanor crimes ranging from minor theft, writing bad checks and marijuana possession, there's no mention of Jeff Mizanskey, the only inmate in the state who's currently serving a life sentence without parole for three nonviolent pot charges.
An occasional weed dealer and admitted stoner at the time he was arrested during a sting operation in 1993, Mizanskey had the misfortune to get busted in the only state that uses a special felony statute to target three-time drug offenders with increasingly extreme sentences and no parole, regardless if their crimes were violent or not.
Mizanksey had previously racked up two felony pot charges, one in 1984 for possessing a half-pound and then again in 1991 for about two ounces. After the 1993 bust, Mizanskey was considered a "prior and persistent drug offender," and the judge gave him a life sentence.
Mizasnkey's tale was featured in a Riverfront Times cover story last year, and since then supporters and advocacy groups have begged Nixon to pardon the now 61-year-old inmate. Mizanskey filed his own clemency petition two years ago.
Daily RFT reached out to Nixon's office for details on Mizanskey's clemency request, but spokesperson Scott Holste declined to comment on Mizanskey's case.
"The specific cases when pardons were granted were ones that were closely reviewed as far as the specific circumstances of those cases," Holste says. "Each of these cases is going to be different."
Aaron Malin, a researcher for Show-Me Cannabis, says Nixon's decision to pardon marijuana offenders is a good sign, and perhaps it bodes well for the group's ballot initiative that seeks to legalize the sale and use of marijuana for adults over 21 and to allow people like Mizanskey -- with criminal charges stemming from nonviolent marijuana infractions -- to have their records expunged.
"We are hopeful that the announcement indicates an increased willingness by the governor to use executive clemency to grant non-violent offenders a second chance to be productive citizens," Malin says. "Show-Me Cannabis is hopeful that the governor will continue to use his authority to save Missouri taxpayers money while releasing marijuana offenders whose crimes had no victims."
Among the list of those Nixon pardoned on Monday is Bobby Covey, who in 1988 was placed on five years' probation after being convicted in Ray County of two counts of selling marijuana, according to a release from the governor's office. Two other men with weed possession charges, including a decorated war veteran, were also pardoned.
As it stands, the status of Mizanskey's clemency petition is unclear. Malin tells Daily RFT that there's no process to resubmit a petition after it's already been filed, which leaves Mizanskey and his supporters to try things like a buying billboards or circulating petitions in order to sway Nixon's opinion.
Continue to read the Nixon's full release and details on the nine pardons.
Here's the full press release from governor's office:
Gov. Nixon grants pardons to nine non-violent offenders
JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Jay Nixon today announced that he has granted pardons to eight men and one woman convicted of non-violent offenses. Each of the individuals has completed his or her sentence and has become a law-abiding citizen.
"The executive power to grant clemency is one I take with a great deal of consideration and seriousness," Gov. Nixon said. "In each of the cases where I have granted a pardon, the individual has demonstrated the ability and willingness to turn his or her life around and become a contributing member of society, including two who served honorably in our nation's military."
Those granted pardons are:
Alphonso Johnson is a union electrician and a minister who mentors troubled youth. In the late 1970s, he was convicted in St. Louis City of two misdemeanor stealing charges and served a 12-day sentence and a five-month sentence;
Richard Owens served in the Missouri Army National Guard, the Georgia Army National Guard and the United States Army, and was decorated for service in Germany and Iraq before receiving a medical discharge. He joined the military after completing his probation for being convicted in Butler County of property damage and second-degree burglary for stealing a five-gallon water jug that was a quarter full of mixed change in 1993;
Orlando Rivera was deployed five times with the U.S. Army to Iraq and Afghanistan, winning several medals, including the Bronze Star. He also has been awarded the Purple Heart four times. He was placed on probation in 2006 after being convicted in Webster County of possession of marijuana;
Carol Shadden has been employed steadily in the restaurant industry, including in management positions, and has taken college courses. In 1987, she was convicted in Greene County of misdemeanor stealing for remaining on state assistance after she was no longer eligible and was given two years' probation. She paid full restitution and successfully completed her probation;
Joseph Frye received a bachelor's degree in business administration and has been active in his community, including by serving as an alderman for the village of Hunnewell. He was discharged early from his probationary period after being convicted in Montgomery County of stealing and second-degree burglary in 1991for the theft of two aluminum storm doors and other miscellaneous items. He paid all court-ordered restitution;
Egial Hopkins is retired from the health care industry and has long been involved with volunteer work. In 1970, he was placed on two years' probation after being convicted in Clay County of forgery for writing $74 in bad checks. Prior to sentencing, he paid restitution in full;
Steven Lusher has earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering from Missouri S&T, and has been a senior research specialist for several years. In 1989, he was convicted in Cole County of possession of marijuana and placed on five years' probation;
Curtis Mullins has earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in social work, and his employment has included working as a teacher, a juvenile officer and as the executive director of an adoption agency. In 1969, he was placed on probation for one year after being convicted in St. Louis City of stealing a diamond ring; and
Bobby Covey has worked in construction and maintenance. In 1988, he was placed on five years' probation after being convicted in Ray County of two counts of selling marijuana.
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