Clemency hearings take a new tone under new governor

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By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service
March 13, 2019

Courtesy: Office of Governor Ron DeSantis

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- The State Clemency Board held its first full meeting Wednesday under Governor Ron Desantis and instead of adopting new rules about how the voter-approved Amendment 4 will be implemented, the board is leaving the decision to state lawmakers.

Richard Wershe, also known as White Boy Rick, was 14 when he became an FBI informant. He served 30 years in Michigan on a drug charge, then got sent to a Florida prison in the witness protection program.

"And then he turned around and engaged in criminal conduct and that’s why he’s in a Florida prison, correct?” Governor DeSantis asked during Wershe’s hearing.

Despite support from two FBI agents, the governor didn’t offer a pardon.

”We’ll take the case under consideration,” said DeSantis.

Carlos Degado got his rights back after impregnating a 15-year-old girl when he was 19.

“I’m here today to ask for mercy,” Degado said.

The daughter of that encounter was by his side when he was granted clemency.

“It’s a relief. It's a relief. Am I surprised? Absolutely,” said Degado.

John Butcher had gotten an unfavorable recommendation from staff, but got his rights back.

“A new governor with a better attitude about some things,” said Butcher.

The effects of Amendment 4 are already being felt. There were about 30 fewer cases than normal.

Lawmakers could decide if Amendment 4 not only restores voting rights, but also the right to serve on a jury, run for office, or even have a gun.

“I think we should have a discussion about restoring, restoring a variety of rights,” said State Senator Jeff Brandes.

If lawmakers don’t act, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried says the Clemency Board will fill the void.

“I think that any time we have disenfranchised people, from our society, that only hurts us more. Adding more than just voting to automatic restoration will mean the board can spend its time on the most deserving,” said Fried.

Unlike the previous board, no cases were denied. Instead, cases without a favorable outcome were taken under advisement, which means they can be considered at any time in the future.

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