Clinton Pardons 33 Criminals
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The uniform sits in Kevin Teker’s closet, ironed and ready to wear, a symbol of his steadfast determination to become a rescue mission pilot with the civil air patrol.
On Thursday, with a stroke of the pen, President Clinton removed the last hurdle standing between Teker and his long-held ambition. Clinton pardoned Teker for a 1989 conviction, clearing his name along with those of 32 others who also received the acts of executive clemency on Christmas Eve.
``This is something that completes my greatest goal,″ an exuberant Teker said in a telephone interview from Seattle after a reporter informed him of the good news.
With the pardon, Teker, 33, said he now can pass the necessary background checks to become an active pilot for the Washington State Civil Air Patrol and fly on search-and-rescue missions.
Thirty-two others received the same early Christmas present from the president. Their offenses ranged from conspiring to manufacture marijuana to going AWOL during the Korean War. Clinton, charged in a House impeachment vote a week ago with lying under oath and obstructing justice in the Monica Lewinsky affair, pardoned three people for lying to government agencies or a bank.
The president pardoned tax dodgers, a car thief and various military convicts _ including a thief court-martialed by the Army in 1949. Alejandro Cruz Guedca’s theft conviction almost 50 years ago was the oldest case on the annual White House list of pardons. Clinton also pardoned Samuel Harrell Woodard, convicted by the Air Force of being absent without leave in 1952, during the Korean War.
Billy Reynolds, convicted of mail fraud in 1981, said he awaited the pardon with hopes of restoring his good name.
``I thought ’I deserve more than this,‴ said Reynolds, who cited his status as an Army veteran of the Korean War as one reason for seeking the clemency.
A county commissioner in Texas at the time, Reynolds and other co-workers were accused of pocketing county funds. Reynolds says he never profited from the job and ``had more money when I started than when I finished.″ Still, he didn’t have the cash to put up a fight, so he accepted his five years of probation.
``We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,″ said Reynolds, 67, who lives in Cookville, Texas.
The Justice Department receives hundreds of applications for presidential pardons for federal crimes each year. The various branches of the military review pardon requests for military crimes. Prisoners must wait at least five years after conviction to apply for a pardon, which clears the person’s name.
Typically, pardons go only to those who have long ago served their punishment and returned to productive private life. The FBI usually conducts a background check before a pardon is issued.
In Teker’s case, he said he had been despondent over the death of a friend when he bought and detonated explosives. He later came forward to admit his crime and was put on probation and forced to pay a fine. Nearly a decade later, Teker barely recognizes his old self.
``You make a mistake and then you are given one chance to do the best for your community and country,″ Teker said. ``People don’t realize you don’t have to let the stigma of a conviction hinder you from living your life.″
Clinton issued 21 pardons at Christmastime last year and has granted executive clemency to 110 people since he took office in 1993. Presidents may also issue reprieves or commute sentences.
In his own legal troubles, Clinton faces a possible Senate trial and ouster from office if convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. Clinton’s top lawyer ruled out this month the possibility that Clinton would pardon himself for any crimes he may have committed in office.