Gov. Maura Healey on Thursday recommended pardoning seven people for various offenses committed between 1996 and 2004, including drug possession, assaults and one case of arson.
It's a rare move for a new governor, and one Healey said reflects her belief "that justice delayed can be justice denied."
"As individuals, these men and women have been carrying the burden of their convictions and dealing with consequences far beyond their legal sentences," Healey said at a State House press conference. "They deserve compassion, and pardoning them is the right thing to do. At the same time, their cases reflect the potential that clemency holds to strengthen our justice system."
The group Healey wants to pardon includes a nurse, a social worker, a firefighter and an aspiring aviation mechanic. All seven have served their sentences, and Healey said they have paid their debts to society and are now seeking closure.
The last two Massachusetts governors, Charlie Baker and Deval Patrick, did not exercise their pardon powers until the final year of their second terms. Mitt Romney, who held the corner office before Patrick, issued no pardons over his four years. Healey's office said this is the first time in more than three decades an elected governor of Massachusetts has issued pardons during their first year.
Martin Healy, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association, called Healey's move "an unprecedented action ... that clearly demonstrates her unwavering commitment to making our commonwealth’s justice system more equitable for all."
Two of the people Healey is seeking to pardon, Glendon King and Terrance Williams, joined her for the announcement.
King, a Boston firefighter and Army veteran, was convicted on drug charges in 1992 at the age of 30. He is nearing retirement, Healey's office said, and plans to move to Florida once he retires to work part-time as a security guard.
King said he "took the wrong way for a short moment of time" as a younger man, in the face of peer pressure, "but got right back on track."
“For a gentleman that's got a good head on his shoulders, to be labeled as a convicted felon for years, it’s not a good thing,” he said. “I’ve done everything by the book, everything right. I just wanted to get rid of that label.”
Williams has worked for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission for more than 30 years, and started an organization that takes local youth basketball players on trips to tournaments outside the city. He was found delinquent of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon at age 15, and the victim in that case did not press charges.
He described that incident as "horsing around" with a close friend in school.
"But here I am, 39 years later, getting a pardon," Williams said. "I think we really need to look at people who are out there, just like me, who just made a mistake years ago, who just want that opportunity, just to come back to society."
Healey is also seeking pardons for:
- Edem Amet, who was convicted on drug distribution charges in 1995, when he was 20. He came to the United States as a child, and Healey's office said his convictions "have hindered his ability to become a permanent resident." Amet is also undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.
- Xavier Delvalle, who was convicted in 2006, at age 19, of breaking and entering, possession of burglarious tools and larceny. He was denied a corrections officer job in Boston because of the convictions, which also have kept him from joining the military and becoming an aviation mechanic. He now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, and works for American Airlines.
- John Latter, who was convicted of arson in 1966. He spent 22 years as a licensed practical nurse in Massachusetts, and later retired to Florida where he was denied a nursing license because of his record. Healey said he has been sober since 1992.
- Deborah Pickard, who was convicted of multiple crimes between 1982 and 1987. She is now a licensed clinical social worker in North Carolina. Healey said she has been sober for 29 years and "helps others suffering, like she did, from childhood trauma and substance use disorder."
- Gerald Waloewandja, who was convicted of heroin possession in 2003 at age 18, "at a time when he was suffering from substance use disorder," according to Healey's office.
Healey's recommendations will need to be approved by the Governor's Council, an eight-seat elected body, before the pardons can be granted. Healey said she is also working to "modernize" the state's guidelines for issuing pardons and commutations, with an eye toward racial and gender equity as well as the science around youth brain development.