Wiping the record clean

Nearly three years after the Louisiana Board of Pardons recommended a restoration of his firearms rights, John King still is one step removed from taking his stepson hunting.

King, of West Monroe, is among 394 people awaiting the governor’s action on a recommended pardon, sentence reduction or parole eligibility change.

Like King, they went before the pardon board and pleaded their case for restoration of their civil and citizenship rights, including the right to own firearms or for a reduction in their prison sentences. The board only makes a recommendation, leaving final authority to the governor.

The recommendations for most people stalled once they hit Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk.

In five years, the governor has granted 43 pardons and one sentence reduction. He denied 36 recommendations. No action has been taken on 394 recommendations, including 53 dating back to his first year in office.

The governor:

  • Granted 20 recommendations in 2009 and denied 36.
  • Granted four recommendations in 2011.
  • Granted 20 recommendations in 2012.

Jindal, who was in Virginia on Friday for fundraisers and an education event, refused an interview request on his approach to pardon board recommendations.

In a prepared statement released by his press office, Jindal said his top priority is the safety of Louisiana families and communities.

“Nobody is entitled to a pardon, and we review pardon recommendations on a case-by-case basis to see how it would impact not just the individual seeking the pardon, but also the victims and law enforcement officials who are involved in the case, and the communities where these folks reside. Public safety is paramount in these decisions, so we’re going to be cautious in granting or denying any pardon,” the governor said.

The Jindal administration did not address specific cases, such as King’s pardon recommendation.

King wants a pardon on five counts of simple arson that he said stem from fires involving trash dumpsters.

Sixteen years after his arrest, he said he runs a concrete plant and wants to put the two years he spent in prison behind him.

“I was young. Now I’m older. My stepson wants to go hunting. I can’t take him. I can’t do anything. I can’t even serve on jury duty,” King said.

As part of King’s quest for a pardon, he stopped by the office of state Rep. Frank Hoffmann and asked for help.

Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, said he directed his staff to check King’s background and concluded that King made a youthful mistake.

Based on that, he said, he wrote his first, and to date only, letter of recommendation for a pardon.

“The governor has to do what he thinks is right,” Hoffmann said. “From my perspective, I think John has done well.”

Compared to the state’s past governors, Jindal is conservative with clemency requests.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco granted 374 clemency recommendations during her four years in office. Gov. Mike Foster granted 432 in eight years. Gov. David Treen granted fewer than 200 during his single term in office.

The state’s only four-term governor, Edwin Edwards, approved more than 3,000 recommendations, including restoring the firearms rights of a man who later killed Edwards’ brother Nolan.

In 2012, after winning a second term in office, Jindal granted 20 pardon board recommendations.

He approved a three-year-old recommendation on a possession of hydrocodone conviction and granted pardons on two LSD convictions.

Other requests that resonated with the governor included that of newspaper publisher Sam Hanna, who was among those who received a pardon from the governor last year.

Hanna, who runs three papers in Louisiana, applied for a pardon in 2010, six years after his fourth DWI conviction. The pardon board recommended in 2011 that the governor accept his request. The governor complied on Sept. 28.

“(It’s) vindication to me that if you do what you’re supposed to do, pay the price, take your licks ... that you can put your life back in order,” Hanna said in an interview about why he wanted the pardon.

He said he went to jail, served home incarceration and conquered a drinking problem, taking his last alcoholic drink on April 30, 2004.

Hanna said he is uncertain why the governor favored his pardon request.

“I guess because I deserved it,” he said.