Gov. Healey recommends 4 more pardons during her first year

Politics

In recent years, Massachusetts has had one of the lowest clemency rates in the country. Gov. Maura Healey is changing that.

Gov. Maura Healey has recommended four more people for pardons. Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe

In her second round this year, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey is continuing to buck state clemency trends and traditions by recommending four more pardons during her first year in office.

In June, Healey recommended seven pardons — the most a Massachusetts governor has recommended during their first year in office in over 30 years. Governors and presidents typically wait until the end of their tenure to offer clemency to convicts.

“When we recommended our first round of pardons earlier this year, I said that we were doing it because justice can’t wait. This second round reflects our continued commitment to that principle,” Healey said in a press release Thursday. 

The four people Healey recommended for pardons include a childcare worker, a public servant, a US Marine, and a “committed” volunteer. Their clemency request will now be reviewed by the Governor’s Council for approval.

“These four individuals are deserving of pardons for offenses that they committed a long time ago, and they have since taken productive steps to improve their lives and give back to their communities,” Healey said in the release. “Our administration believes that clemency is a powerful tool to ensure that our criminal justice system is just and equitable.” 

Governors only have the power to pardon state offenses. All requests for clemency go through the Advisory Board of Pardons, which reviews them and then makes recommendations to the governor.

Joanne Booth: Booth was convicted of assault and battery on a police officer and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in 1979 when she was 18, the release said. Four years later, she was convicted of operating to endanger.

In both cases, Booth was sentenced to probation, during which she volunteered at a nursery school and developed a passion for childcare, the release said. She went on to graduate from community college and started a career in early childhood education.

Most recently, Booth ran a pre-kindergarten program, the release said. However, in 2021, after her longtime employer received a grant that required all employees undergo a background check, her employer was forced to fire her.

Murphy Smith: Smith was convicted of assault in 1988 when he was in his mid-20s, the release said. At the time, he was suffering a mental health crisis and was sentenced to a year of probation.

Smith went on to work as a nursing assistant, a Maryland corrections officer, and most recently, as a personnel specialist for Maryland’s Spring Grove Hospital, the release said.

In Smith’s request for pardon, he said he has been rejected for jobs because of his criminal record, the release said. He is concerned that if he ever lost his job, he would have trouble finding a new one.

Evan Willey: Willey was convicted of operating under the influence of liquor in 2009 when he was 18, the release said. He was ordered to pay a $500 fine.

At the time, Willey planned to enter the Marine Corps after high school, but was rejected because of his arrest, the release said. He wrote a letter asking for reconsideration, and went on to serve as a Marine from 2009 to 2012 when he was honorably discharged after being wounded in Afghanistan.

Willey later earned a master’s degree in business administration from Curry College, the release said. He’s worked for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs for nearly five years.

Kenny Jean: Jean was convicted of armed robbery in 2016 when he was 18, the release said. At the time, he said in his request for pardon, he was homeless and in desperate need of money. He was sentenced to two to three years in prison.

As a teen, Jean worked with a nonprofit called More Than Words, which provides jobs and training to juvenile offenders, the release said. After he was released from prison, he continued to work with the organization.

Since then, Jean has earned a certificate of completion from South Coast Education Collaborative, completed the New England Culinary Arts Training Program, and joined a church. 

Massachusetts’ history with pardons

In recent years, Massachusetts has had one of the lowest clemency rates in the country.

According to a report by Boston criminal defense law firm Zalkin, Duncan, and Bernstein, Gov. Deval Patrick recommended only four pardons and one commutation, and Gov. Mitt Romney didn’t recommend any commutations or pardons.

This was not always the case, the report said. In 1970, Gov. Francis Sargent granted 477 pardons — the largest number of pardons granted in a single year in Massachusetts.

Clemency in the state dropped off precipitously in the 1980s “with the ascent of tough-on-crime politics” and never recovered, according to a report by the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law. When the report was written in 2017, 89% of the state’s approved commutations had been granted before 1980.

Gov. Charlie Baker, Healey’s predecessor, began reversing the trend, though not as dramatically as Healey. During his last year in office, he recommended 15 pardons, including a controversial pardon for defendants in the Fells Acres child sex abuse case, which he later withdrew.

Baker also recommended three commutations, and was the first Massachusetts governor to commute a life sentence for a murder conviction in 25 years.

How Healey is changing the norm

Back in June, criminal justice reform advocates praised Healey’s proactiveness with issuing pardons. She was even praised by the president of the Boston Bar Association, who called clemency a “critical element of a functioning justice system” that “has fallen into disuse and neglect in recent decades.”

At that time, Healey also said she’d review and revise the state’s clemency guidelines to ensure fairness, timeliness, and evaluate how clemency might be used to mitigate racial disparities and other inequities. 

All seven of the people Healey recommended for pardons in June were recommended by the Advisory Board of Pardons during Baker’s tenure, The Boston Globe reported. All seven pardons have now been approved.

Healey’s office said previously that she is the first Massachusetts governor to pardon people during her first year in office since Bill Weld in 1991, the Globe reported.

Her recommendations are also the most to be issued by a Massachusetts governor in the first year of their term since 1983 when Michael Dukakis recommended 49 pardons and four commutations.