Gov. celebrates more than 700 pardons as mother fights for son’s second chance
RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Governor Ralph Northam closed out the first week of his “Thank You, Virginia” tour during a ceremony on Brown’s Island Friday afternoon by celebrating the hundreds of pardons his administration has granted to former inmates.
Northam touted that his administration has been one of the most forgiving, pardoning more than 700 people - more than the last nine governors combined. His administration has also restored the rights of more than 112,000 people.
“We want people to move forward, not to be tied down by the mistakes of their past,” said Northam.
Northam’s administration has also created a clemency system that makes the process equitable, transparent and timely—allowing action on more than 2,500 pardons during his term.
During the ceremony, recipients of the pardons like Jeremy Johnson, who was awarded a conditional pardon on Nov. 19, shared their stories to the crowds in attendance.
“I made one decision that cost me 21 years, and I was sentenced to 61 years,” said Johnson. “It was a blessing to me when I saw that Governor Northam and his staff had seen my change.”
The ceremony comes off the heels of a high-profile pardon of 26-year-old Blair Dacey, who was awarded a conditional pardon. Dacey was convicted of second-degree murder after delivering a fatal blow to 21-year-old Rusty Mack in 2013. She served less than half of her 20-year sentence.
The decision drew praise from the Dacey family but also much criticism.
“We take the pardons very deliberate. We look at each one individually. They often can be very complicated. There are a lot of different sides to the story,” said Northam. “I believe in second chances. I believe in the pardon system, and Miss Dacey was given a pardon.”
But Cynthia Sydnor can’t help but wonder why it’s taken so long for her son to get his second chance. She says her son has spent the last 23 years on an alleged armed robbery.
“It’s a farce. It’s a travesty of justice really,” said Sydnor. “He put in for a pardon four years ago, and it was just recently denied this month.”
That’s why folks like Berkura Shabazz from the Criminal Justice Reform Network fight to bring Sydnor’s son’s case to the forefront.
“We know several others who have been waiting for four, five, six, seven years for pardons,” said Shabazz.
Shabazz believes critical mistakes were made leading up to Sydnor’s son’s incarceration. She believes his unique case, in addition to his positive transformation in prison, should be enough for a pardon.
“We’re touting out here about justice, and every day you have an opportunity to remedy injustice,” said Shabazz.
“I was sad because my son still hasn’t been released,” said Sydnor. “It’s time for him to come home.”
Sydnor says her son is set to be released sometime next year, but she and other advocates will keep fighting for his and pardon, as well as the forgiveness for the crimes of other individuals.
Northam’s office also created new eligibility criteria to automatically restore voting rights to individuals upon completion of their sentence of incarceration.
Virginia remains one of the three states in the nation whose constitution permanently disenfranchises citizens with past felony convictions. The governor has the sole discretion to restore civil rights, excluding firearm rights.
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