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Gov. Jerry Brown issues 79 pardons

Among those receiving pardons are Leonard Wilson-Banks, who served time for robbery in Alameda County. He's now a prison chaplain in Arkansas.

December 24, 2012|By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times
  • Gov. Jerry Brown walks through the hallway to the Capitol before a press conference last month.
Gov. Jerry Brown walks through the hallway to the Capitol before a press… (Wally Skalij, Los Angeles…)

Prison chaplain Leonard Wilson-Banks often tells the inmates he counsels to heed his life and the successes he accomplished after serving time behind bars.

But Wilson-Banks once gave up on the one part of his redemption — a pardon.

"I lost confidence," he said. But then a few years later he started pushing for it again.

More than 30 years and five governors after first applying, Wilson-Banks on Monday learned his perseverance had paid off. "Thank you so much! Thank you!" he said to a reporter who called him at an Arkansas prison to tell him that Gov. Jerry Brown had given him clemency.

Wilson-Banks, 77, was among 79 people for whom the California governor on Sunday signed full pardons, giving clemency to more people in a single day than some California governors have in their entire tenure.

The list was released Monday, but word had not yet reached all recipients. Wilson-Banks said his hopes lifted recently, when he heard Brown's office had called the warden at the Cummins Prison Unit in Arkansas, where he is chaplain.

His road to clemency started with release from prison in 1974, after serving time for a robbery in Alameda County in which he drove the get-away car. He began to work for criminal justice programs, from a university program for parolees to working as a chaplain and advisor in California prisons. An Alameda County court in 1980 endorsed him for a pardon, and when that wasn't enough, Wilson-Banks began soliciting letters of endorsement, including those from a judge and a congressman.

By 1988, Wilson-Banks gave up the quest, only to resume it a few years later, calling the governor's office so often that he came to know the staff by name. Still, Monday's news caught him off guard. "I only wish I got it before my mother went on, three years ago," he said.

For the most part, those pardoned were small-time drug offenders. Many who served little to no time in prison had secured pardon recommendations years ago from their local courts. One Sacramento man, who served a year in jail on a 1968 grand theft charge, had been eligible for pardon since 1973. The most serious case involved a Los Angeles woman, 80-year-old Bertha Fairley, who received clemency for a 1971 involuntary manslaughter conviction.

Brown's acts of clemency grace only a small set of those who become eligible every year. The majority of those pardoned had persuaded local Superior Courts to award them a certificate of rehabilitation. The service is free through the county public defender's office.

From January through November, the Los Angeles County Superior Court sent the governor's office the names of 60 people recommended for pardons. John Garbin, the paralegal who handles pardon applications for the county public defender's office, said he's seen only six granted in his career.

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