JEFFERSON CITY — As part of his effort to reduce the state’s clemency backlog, Gov. Mike Parson on Friday announced he was issuing 15 pardons and commuting two sentences.
The Republican chief executive did not immediately name the clemency recipients, saying the state would first inform families of the news. The office pledged to release the names at a later date.
Nonetheless, Friday’s news was encouraging to criminal justice reform advocates who have pushed Parson to use his authority as governor to process the roughly 3,300 outstanding applications.
Parson inherited the backlog when he took office in 2018. At the time, his office said there were 3,695 pending clemency applications.
In December, the governor announced he issued 24 pardons and commuted four sentences.
Kelli Jones, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said that in addition to granting a total of 45 requests since December, it had also issued two batches of request denials.
She also said that some applicants may have died since they requested clemency or are otherwise no longer eligible.
Jones said the two commutations issued Friday were for offenders currently incarcerated; she said the pardon recipients are people who weren’t behind bars.
John Ammann, professor emeritus of law at St. Louis University, said pardons are most often issued to people who are no longer incarcerated.
“Most of the pardons are people who had convictions many years ago and are looking to clear up their record for job purposes or to get a gun permit or a hunting license, that kind of stuff,” he said.
He said there are a number of reasons why a clemency request might be denied.
“There are a lot people in prison who apply for clemency who have short sentences and will be getting out soon,” Ammann said, “who’ve maybe just gotten into prison and haven’t served very much of their time. Those are cases that are not likely to get a grant of clemency.
“In any state, with any president, with any governor, the vast majority of clemency applications are denied,” he said.
Criminal justice reform advocates such as Ammann have pushed Parson to address the backlog.
Ammann, a founder of the Community Coalition for Clemency, spoke with the governor’s staff in recent months about 10 potential clemency recipients — all women serving long prison terms. He said Friday he hadn’t heard whether any of his clients had won clemency.
Among the prisoners on the coalition’s list is Patty Prewitt, 71, who is serving a life sentence at the Chillicothe Correctional Center after being convicted of murdering her husband, Bill Prewitt.
According to a brief sent to the governor’s office, Prewitt maintains her innocence after serving 34 years in prison. Her attorneys say her conviction was flawed, including the use of a discredited forensic expert and a failure to pursue leads to corroborate Prewitt’s account.
Ammann had previously said the postelection holiday season was the best time for the governor’s office staff to focus its attention on clemency, given the holiday season and that the legislative session that starts in January.
So he said Friday it was welcome news Parson made a second round of clemency decisions.
“We’re just very encouraged. Our whole coalition is very encouraged that the governor as he promised is continuing to go through the backlog and issue clemency decisions,” Ammann said. “We’re very heartened by the fact that the process continues on what seems like a regular basis now to review and grant some clemencies.”
Retired St. Louis financier and political megadonor Rex Sinquefield met with Parson in December to ask that he continue processing applications. Also at the meeting were Sinquefield’s daughter Katie Sinquefield, former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Missouri, and Columbia defense attorney Jennifer Bukowsky, a Republican who donated $300,000 last year to help with Boone County’s public defender case backlog.
Chris Limbaugh, former general counsel in the governor’s office, had worked on efforts to process clemency applications, but Parson appointed him an associate circuit judge in Cole County this month.
Jones, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in an email that other staff attorneys had continued work since Limbaugh’s departure.
“The attorneys who worked with Mr. Limbaugh, and who remain on staff, have absorbed the workload,” she said on Feb. 8. “Processing the backlog of clemency cases inherited by this office remains one of the Governor’s priorities and his legal staff continue to work to that end.”