Friday, December 09, 2011

Eat the turkey, pardon O Henry! President quotes Texas writer but won't pardon him

UPDATE: See the website and campaign blog which were inspired by this post. Sign a petition asking President Obama to pardon this great American writer.

Oh cruel, bitter irony!

After legendary Austin short-story writer O Henry's pardon was turned down some years back, and given President Obama's own stingy record regarding pardons, it's especially annoying to learn, via PS Ruckman at Pardon Power, that President Obama's speech writers had the gall (or perhaps the philistinism) to include a quote from O Henry in the President's remarks "pardoning" a Thanksgiving turkey.

O Henry, whose pardon application has been on Ruckman's clemency watch list for ages, always claimed he was innocent, but when accused of embezzling $748 from the Austin bank he worked for, he fled to Honduras, returning to face federal charges in 1898 after his wife became terminally ill. In a practice that wouldn't be allowed in today's TDCJ, he "began writing stories to support his young daughter while he was in prison," moving to New York to continue his career after his release.

According to the Houston Chronicle's coverage in 1985, O Henry's (i.e, William Sydney Porter's) federal pardon application, championed by supporters including late-Texas state appellate court Judge Trueman O'Quinn, was turned down at that time because "A pardon isn't complete until it's accepted by the person, and a dead man can't accept it." In other words, Reagan's pardon office refused to issue a posthumous pardon.

As luck would have it, though, last year a Texas Attorney General's opinion cleared the way for the Texas Governor to issue posthumous pardons so that he could give one to Timothy Cole, who was falsely convicted of rape but wasn't exonerated until years after he died in prison. The Texas opinion took head on the question of whether the US President may issue pardons when the recipient is dead and cannot "accept" it: "the United States Supreme Court has since recognized that 'the requirement of consent [to a pardon] was a legal fiction at best' and has generally abandoned the acceptance doctrine since adopting it in 1833. Schick v. Reed, 419 U.S. 256, 261 (1974)." So according to the formal legal advice given to Rick Perry, the President has full authority to issue posthumous pardons and the "acceptance" requirement is a "legal fiction."

Grits has argued previously that Governor Perry would be wise to use his gubernatorial pardon power more generously than usual this Christmas season, both to distinguish himself from his GOP rivals - none of whom presently possess comparable clemency authority - and to highlight President Obama's abysmal clemency record, which even the President's liberal supporters deplore. (Perry's isn't great, but it's better than Obama's, granting clemency in 2003 alone more often than has Obama during his entire tenure.) IMO that'd be good campaign strategy for an incumbent governor looking to burnish his positive image in the holiday season, using the authority of his office to seize press attention for a news cycle or two and to elevate himself above his rivals.

Why not issue a coupla dozen or so gubernatorial pardons as a news hook, then attack Obama for his Scrooge-like clemency practices and for quoting a Texan during his trivializing turkey-pardon who merits a posthumous pardon himself. It would cost him nothing, it's an homage to a revered and influential Texan, and it rebukes Barack Obama after the President used the words of the Texas writer whose pardon was snubbed to commemorate the disingenuous ritual of pardoning a turkey.

Grits says eat the turkey, pardon O Henry!

See related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

Grits, you really are good!

MidCoast Kid said...

I agree! I wanted to put this on our library Facebook page, but there's a little problem with the "bullshit ritual" in the last line. Damn! We are in the buckle of the Bible Belt (or maybe that's Dallas...) and we librarians don't talk like that, at least in public.

Chato said...

I beg your pardon?? Did not know that O'Henry needed a pardon. This sounds like just the right thing to get Perry some good press versus all the bad stuff he's gotten so far. Pardon the pun but O'Henry needs a pardon more than he needs a pun off.

sunray's wench said...

Grits said: "In a practice that wouldn't be allowed in today's TDCJ, he "began writing stories to support his young daughter while he was in prison," moving to New York to continue his career after his release."

Inmates are not allowed to profit from their crimes, but they are allowed to publish writing while in prison and receive any royalties from it. Many inmates currently do, I know one who writes songs and that is how he supports himself. Of course they usually need a little help from someone on the outside, but it happens.

TDCJ wont pay them for working so I see no harm at all in them finding other legitimate ways of supporting themselves.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

MCK, just because I'm feeling generous this morning, and as an homage to librarians everywhere, I edited the offending language to say "disingenuous ritual." It is BS, though. :)

SW, I thought prisoners were forbidden from earning outside income except through a few approved venues (correctional industries, etc.). Perhaps I was wrong; maybe somebody who works at TDCJ can clarify. But I also wonder if the folks you know making $ with help from somebody on the outside might be doing it on the sly.

sunray's wench said...

Scott, I don't see how TDCJ could stop it to be honest, or even if they would want to. Inmate sends something like song words to a copyrite house, or manuscript to a publisher, or goods made in the craft workshop to a family member. Royalties are either paid directly into inmate's trust fund, or a family member or legal representative, who then deposit the money into the inmate's trust fund. If TDCJ are going to limit who puts money on an inmate's books, that can be done because it is in several other states, but TDCJ cannot investigate the origin of that money, and if they prevent too much of it coming in they will lose out on commisarry and phone time sales. It's in TDCJ's interests to at least turn a blind eye to inmates making money legally outside the prisons.

Kevin Stouwie said...

Great idea!

According to The Board of Pardons and Paroles, in fiscal year 2010, there were 430 applications received for full pardons. Of those, 183 were forwarded to the Board for a vote. After considering the requests, 33 people were recommended for a full pardon. The Board also received 24requests to commute a death sentence to a sentence of life in prison, and they agreed that 2 of those sentences ought to be commuted. Perhaps, once in a while, the Governor might want to go with the recommendation of the Board HE appointed.