Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bush pardons 19, commutes sentence of meth dealer

President George W. Bush granted pardons Tuesday to 19 citizens charged with a variety of crimes, but none was prominent.

Presidential pardon lists are being closely monitored in the final weeks of the Bush administration, particularly to see whether former vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby will be granted the presidential favor.

One of the men pardoned is Charles Winters, who died almost 25 years ago. His son had worked on winning a presidential pardon for his dad, who had helped smuggle weapons to Jews fighting in what was then Palestine in the late 1940s.

A Protestant from Boston, Massachusetts, Winters spent 18 months behind bars. He was the only U.S. citizen to serve time for helping fly weapons to Jews struggling to create Israel.

A 20th person received a commutation of a life sentence for possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. That individual, Reed Raymond Prior, was ordered released from prison in February 2009. He will have served more than 12 years.

"We commend President Bush's decision to grant a commutation to Reed Prior, who is deserving of a second chance," Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said in a written statement.

"Of course, clemencies only underscore the larger problem -- the systemic injustice caused by mandatory minimum sentences that fill the prisons with low-level drug offenders in the first place."

Bush has granted 191 pardons and nine commutations, far fewer than Presidents Clinton and Reagan in their two-term administrations.

Among the more notable who have applied for some form of clemency are:

• Former Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham, Republican from California, who was convicted of receiving bribes.
• Publishing executive Conrad Black, who was found guilty of fraud.
• Former junk bold salesman Michael Milken.
• Former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers, convicted of accounting fraud.

The parents of John Walker Lindh, who was given a 20-year sentence after pleading guilty to supporting terrorists in Afghanistan, held a news conference last week urging Bush to commute their son's sentence.

It is unclear how many more requests Bush may grant before leaving office, although administration officials have said they do not expect any last-minute announcements, as was seen when President Bill Clinton pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich, setting off a firestorm of controversy.

A commutation reduces a convict's prison term, but the conviction remains on the person's record. A pardon, however, wipes the slate clean by erasing the record of the conviction.

A president has the sole authority to grant clemency and to whom, although a Justice Department office usually reviews applications and makes recommendations after considering standards such as a person's degree of remorse and ability to lead a responsible and productive life after release.

Those applying for a pardon through the Justice Department are required to wait at least five years after their conviction or release from confinement.

Roughly 1,300 requests for commutation and 860 pardon applications are still pending.

Read the full list of pardons

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