Tuesday, September 11, 2012

O. Henry pardon application submitted as postal service issues eponymous stamp

USPS: O. Henry (Forever)
Today is William S. Porter's 150th birthday, though readers' more likely know the man by his nom de plume: O. Henry. The US Postal Service is issuing a stamp in the writer's honor. To celebrate, Grits has partnered with Prof. P.S. Ruckman at the Pardon Power blog (see his latest post on the topic) to submit an application for a presidential pardon on O. Henry's behalf to the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the Department of Justice, with a copy also submitted directly to President Obama. Porter/O. Henry was convicted of bank fraud in Austin in the old federal court building that now houses the UT-System offices, which has since been renamed O. Henry Hall. But quite a few biographers and historians - not to mention the prosecutor in his case, Duval West, who went on to become a federal judge in Texas' Western District - came to doubt his guilt in the years following his death.

Whether or not he was actually innocent, though (the application takes no firm position on the subject), there's little doubt that the writer left federal prison not just rehabilitated but prepared to make an enduring contribution to American literature and culture. Even if he never received presidential forgiveness, the American public forgave and embraced him. Porter's pseudonym to this day graces an Austin middle school as well as the nation's most prestigious short story prize. Indeed, a school was named for the writer in Llano, TX just two years after his release from prison! There are elementary schools named after O. Henry in Garland, TX and Greenville, North Carolina, and even a middle school in New York City.

The pardon petition idea first bubbled to the surface after President Obama quoted the great writer last year while pardoning a pair of Thanksgiving turkeys in an annual ritual that IMO makes a mockery of  executive clemency powers. The Constitution's framers considered a pivotal check and balance to excesses of the criminal justice system. In Federalist Paper #74, Alexander Hamilton wrote that, "The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel." In modern times, though, executive clemency, especially at the federal level, has itself become a cruel joke to those who seek it.

Prof. Ruckman was the primary drafter of the pardon application and Grits appreciates his hard work on this project more than I can say. So partially in appreciation, and partially because he framed the argument so well, I'll close with a quote from the section of the pardon application articulating the reasons why the President should honor this great American writer with posthumous clemency:
the conventional view of pardons (state and federal) is all too often deeply infected with a kind of cynicism that is based in ignorance. This cynicism is directed at both those wielding the power of clemency and those who benefit from it. In this view, politicians use pardons to benefit personal friends, family members, large donors and fellow partisans. Anyone outside of the ranks is assumed to be a violent criminal, being tossed into the streets to terrorize society once again. In this view, acts of clemency are seen as “gifts” (fittingly distributed around Christmastime), “gifts” which may (or may not) be deserved. Sadly, members of the media do little to better inform, or discourage, this conventional wisdom.

Of course, students of the pardon power (state and federal) know that the typical clemency recipient does not spring anyone from prison. The typical recipient has already served his/her  time – if there ever was any to be served. The offenses addressed are usually minor / non-violent and the recipient has, over a considerable period of time, integrated back into society as a law-abiding and productive member.

In sum, the typical pardon (which usually has the effect of merely restoring rights) is not a “gift” at all. It is earned and deserved. Executives are thus not “doing favors.” They are fulfilling their constitutional duty to make sure laws are not “too sanguinary and cruel” and that – where deserved - there is “easy access” to mercy.

The posthumous pardon of William Porter can be the very first to make this critical point, educating the American public - like no other - as to the original purposes and actual usage of the pardon power. It can be a much-needed giant step toward realigning the conventional wisdom with reality. The American public needs to understand the relationship between the rehabilitative function and the pardon power and Porter’s case is the perfect vehicle. School teachers across America could discuss rehabilitation and pardon as their students read The Gift of the Magi or the Ransom of Red-Chief. In an environment where the value of clemency is understood and appreciated, presidents and DOJ officials can exercise the pardon power more generously, and more effectively, as they should. O. Henry is considered a master of “surprise endings” and his life-story deserves a better ending. 
Go here to sign a petition in support of O. Henry's pardon application. Here's a copy of the application itself and attachments articulating an account of the offense and reasons for granting the pardon, as well as a summary brief submitted separately to the President.

See past posts from Prof. Ruckman's Pardon Power blog on O. Henry:
Here are several past, related Grits posts:
Finally, see more items on O. Henry's pardon application and related clemency issues at the Pardon O. Henry! blog.


Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, after being denied a Full Pardon - for innocence considerations (twice) I decided to forego a third attempt due to the roadblocks, loopholes and unattainable requirements placed on Applicants by the TBP&P Clemency Section.

In lieu of seeking the elusive Full Pardon, I chose to expose the state sanctioned cover-up process & those that make a living off it on the taxpayers’ dime. After learning about the campaign to seek a Full Pardon for Mr. O. Henry, I decided to jump on the bandwagon with no regrets.

Your attempt to bring attention to a process that has been dummied down to a mere joke has inspired me to launch a Petition of my own regarding another cover-up process involving post conviction relief.

My Petition at Change.org



WHO?: Petitioning Mr. Rick Perry, Governor of “the great state of confusion” aka: Texas

WHAT?: STOP! Cherry Picking for Innocence by *creating, *implementing & *operating the -“Post Conviction Inspection & Integrity Unit of Texas” program.

*Folks that haven't signed the O. Henry Petition are asked to do so today and to get 10 others to sign it and so on. Thanks.

Chris Halkides said...

I am all for it. There is a William Henry Porter school in Greensboro, NC, (according to Wikipedia), but I cannot find a school in Greenville, NC.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits & all, on behalf of those (VOTS) Victims’ of the System - that would benefit from an un-biased and through post conviction vetting via a state level program which is ‘not’ affiliated with the Pardon (Clemency) or Parole sections of the TBP&P consisting of equal: *Rs’, *Ds’ & *Is’ that’s void of former: *DAs, *ADAs, *Judges and / or *Police of any kind, (and from the bottom of my heart), I truly appreciate you for allowing the piggy-back & ya'll signing it.

On behalf of those that would benefit from the spot light being aimed at the gross & blatant misuse of the Presidential Pardon which is currently being utilized as friggin joke at Thanksgiving & upon exiting the office, and your tireless efforts to bring back some dignity to the process, there are not enough words to convey the appreciation of the nation's masses’. Just the same, thanks a million.

NOTE: there is no way in hell that all of the state of Texas’ & nations’ innocence claims’ are valid, the only Honest way to cull, is to cull ‘em all and let the process be conducted by folks ‘not’ in the game.

Hey Chris, try using O. Henry in Google.

CraigO said...

You guys are doing it wrong. The traditional way is to give money to the campaign of the president in power and you will get your pardon in the final days of their presidency.