We'll pardon a turkey, but not inmates?

Well, 'tis the season for pardoning turkeys at the White House. There is an online petition asking President Barack Obama to pardon a GMO-free, pasture-raised turkey this year. The president has pardoned at least two turkeys a year since taking office, and he has pardoned or commuted the sentences of 61 people. I can't find any record of his having pardoned anybody in 2014. But he will pardon those two turkeys this week.

There is a call to federal inmates serving long sentences for drug possession to apply for clemency. Earlier this year, forms were distributed in the prisons, but then the Department of Justice ruled that federal public defenders could not help their clients fill out the forms. The public defenders' role is defense, not providing assistance for the guilty, the rule said. Nonetheless, there is some hope that the president will grant thousands of these appeals before his term of office expires. That's the hope.

Meanwhile, thousands of individual appeals have been denied or still sit waiting for a decision. Here in Missouri, our governor, Jay Nixon, has only commuted one sentence from death to life in prison. My cynical view is that that commutation might not have been such a great favor. The inmate, Richard Clay, was prosecuted by former Congressman Kenny Hulshof, who has had two other capital convictions overturned and has been disciplined by the Missouri Bar. Clay's claim of innocence took priority while he was on death row; now, it doesn't seem to be receiving much attention.

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One of my guilty pleasures has been watching reruns of "The West Wing." In episode 101, the assistant, Donna Moss, oversees the final review of pardon applications waiting for presidential action. It's a heartbreaker of a show and a pretty realistic view of the politics and the reluctance of the president to appear soft on crime.

My own action has been to create a Facebook page, Clemency Sabbath. A year ago, I tried unsuccessfully to get Missouri faith congregations to preach on clemency during this Thanksgiving season. This year, other events have interfered with my organizing plans, but I have continued to post clemency appeals from family members of the incarcerated as well as news stories about pardons and the lack thereof. If you go to Facebook and like Clemency Sabbath, you should get notices whenever I post another news item or clemency appeal.

The Missouri execution of Leon Taylor is scheduled for tonight. I don't expect Nixon to grant him clemency. This juxtaposition of asking for clemency for a GMO-free turkey, learning about the pardon process by watching "The West Wing," and standing in watch outside of the Bonne Terre prison in bitter cold, waiting for an execution -- this is what our modern culture looks like. May God forgive us.


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