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Clinton has special Christmas presents for 21 Americans: pardons

December 25, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Retired welder Ralph Lee Limbaugh longed for a chance to go hunting again. George Maynes Jr., a Boy Scout leader and soccer coach, wanted to be a role model for his kids. Raymond Phillip Weaver prayed for elimination of the blot on his Navy career.

They were among 21 Americans whose most precious Christmas present could only come from President Clinton _ and he gave it to them.

A pardon.

The gift didn’t come in wrapping paper _ or even an envelope. Clinton signed the executive grants of clemency without fanfare Tuesday night, so late that Justice Department officials didn’t have time initially to relay the good news. Several of the recipients learned of their good fortune from Associated Press reporters.

``I feel more like a 100 percent citizen now,″ said Limbaugh, 66, a retired welder from Sterrett, Ala. ``Before I only felt like a partial citizen. I feel like a fish that’s been put back in the water. It’s like you just met the love of your life.″

Limbaugh said he ``stole a case of spark plugs,″ receiving two years’ probation in 1974 for theft of an interstate shipment.

Barred from possessing a firearm, the award-winning shooter could no longer do two things he loved: hunt and enter National Rifle Association competitions.

``What I did wasn’t violent. If I were a violent man, I could see them keeping me from owning firearms,″ said Limbaugh, who said he first applied for a pardon nearly five years ago.

George Maynes of El Paso, Texas, was convicted of distributing cocaine in 1975. He paid with six months in jail, three years probation and three years on parole. Maynes then turned his life around.

``I’m in the (Boy) scouts and I’m a soccer coach,″ he said. ``It was critical for me, at least in my own mind, to have acknowledged that I can still be a role model. This was the most important thing.″

Maynes is a stay-at-home dad who is ``very close″ to his sons Michael, 10, and Jesse, 7. Formerly in the restaurant supply business, Maynes has an associate degree in radiology and is now taking advanced courses. He’s a block captain in his neighborhood’s crime-watcher program.

``This is all quite a shock,″ he said when a reporter called. ``I’m in disbelief.″

Weaver, 74, of St. Petersburg, Fla., saw Clinton dispensing Christmas greetings this week to U.S. troops in Bosnia and figured there was no chance that the president would save any holiday cheer for him.

His crime, 50 Christmas Eves ago? He pleaded guilty on Dec. 24, 1947 to stealing 4 pounds of butter from his Navy base at Lakehurst, N.J. He was court-martialed and reduced in rank from chief radioman to a radioman first class.

``The pardon is the biggest thing in my life, especially because I didn’t think I had chance this Christmas with President Clinton busy visiting our troops in Bosnia,″ said Weaver.

``I’ve been praying. We go to church all the time.″

Weaver served an additional 16 years in the Navy after the incident, and three sons among his five children followed him into military service.

Larry Winfield of Cove, Ark., convicted of mail fraud in November 1987, received three years probation and paid some $2,000 in restitution for cashing unemployment checks from Texas.

Winfield said he was ineligible to take the money, because he had part-time employment at the time.

Now employed with a company that rebuilds electric motors, Winfield said he had been optimistic that the president would come through for him.

``I thought I had a pretty good chance because I knew people who got pardoned for much worse,″ he said, not specifically referring to pardons by Clinton.

Others receiving pardons ranged from Charles Patrick Murrin of Riverside, Calif., for an October 1988 bank robbery, and Billy K. Berry of Dardenelle, Ark., for Medicaid and mail fraud in February 1986, to liquor runners _ Charley Morgan of Tulsa, Okla., convicted in September 1964 of unlawful possession of a still and manufacture of mash, and Glen Edison Chapman of Connelly Springs, N.C., for removing, possessing and concealing non-tax-paid whiskey, in September 1957.

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