Friday, December 14, 2007

Abused women who murder get pardons

Some abused women get pardons
Governor also grants clemency
By Chris Kenning The Courier-Journal (Kentucky) 10 December 2007

Gov. Ernie Fletcher granted clemency, pardons or early parole
yesterday to 21 Kentucky women convicted of killing or
trying to kill men
they say abused them.

Fletcher also said additional pardons will be made today.

The women said the legal system failed to take the abuse into
account in
killings they viewed as self-defense. Some argued
they took ill-advised
pleas, faced unjust verdicts or had done
enough time in prison.

"Our legal system is the best in the world, but it is not perfect,"
Fletcher said in a statement. "Upon individual review of these
cases by
myself and by our General Counsel, I have decided
to grant relief to these
women based on their individual

Nine women were granted full pardons. Of those, eight
previously had their
sentences commuted - Sue Melton,
Mary Ann Long, Martina Stillwell, Tracie
English Gomez,
Sherry Pollard, Margie Marcum, Paula Richey and Karen

They had argued that their records made it hard to get jobs
and participate
in school activities.

"I'm ecstatic, and I couldn't be more thankful that somebody
listened, Gomez, now 34, said in a phone interview
yesterdayevening. She
was convicted of manslaughter for
killing her father, William C. English,
when she was 16 after
a string of abuse and neglect allegations.

Also pardoned was Jaqulynn Green, serving 18 years in
prison for the 2000
death of her child that her abusive husband
later said was his fault only.

Restoration of rights denied to felons, such as the right to vote,
granted to Montilla Seewright, Johnetta McNair and
Frances Alvey. They also
had previously had their sentences

In addition, Jilletta Turner, Stacy Lyons, Teresa Fay Vincent,
Johnson and Gabrielle Cecil had their current prison
sentences commuted
because of the role abuse played in their

Vincent, for example, is serving a 25-year sentence for the
1998 shooting
death of her ex-husband, Bryan Hitchcock,
in Louisville.

Vincent, 60, said last week that she moved six times to escape
a man who
she said for 20 years had hit her in the face with a
baseball bat, stabbed
her with a knife, beat her children and
choked her until she passed out.

Less than a week before the shooting, he raped her. But the
courts found no
connection between the abuse and her crime.

"I left many times, but he got me fired from jobs, ambushed
me and beat me
up," she said last week in an interview.
"He made my life so tough, it was
better to take him back and
put up with it."

Fletcher also has referred the cases of four women to the
state Parole
Board for review, saying there wasn't enough
information in their
petitions. They are Bertha Williams,
Barbara Sarabia, Cassandra Holland and
Pearly Sue Mills.

Holland, for example, said last week that her husband beat her,
raped her
and threatened her with a gun. She stayed with him
for decades but in 2003
threw gasoline and a lit match on him
during a conflict, killing him.

"I didn't want him to die, I just wanted him to stop," she said
adding that if she gets out, she plans to work in a

All the petitions were supported by the Department Of Public
Advocacy and
the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association.

While the facts and circumstances of each case were different,
said the justice system had failed them all.

Marguerite Thomas, a public advocacy lawyer, applauded the
move: "In taking
this action the governor left an indelible mark
on Kentucky's history by
giving a voice to some of the most
vulnerable and disenfranchised. Without
the governor's
actions, their cry for justice would go unheard."

Marsha Weinstein, former executive director of the Kentucky
Commission on
Women, also praised Fletcher's act of "justice
and compassion," according
to a news release from the
governor's office.

But Dan Mackin, one of William English's relatives, said that his
wasn't an abuser and that the pardon was a mistake.
Still, he said, he
"expected it."

"We're not pleased at all," he said in a phone interview. "They
should have
let the families get involved and speak to the governor."

Since 1978, more than 140 women in 28 states have received
clemency for
crimes related to abuse, according to the
Philadelphia-based National
Clearinghouse for the Defense of
Battered Women.

The pardons were Fletcher's first since those he offered to
members of his
administration in the wake of an investigation
into hiring practices.

Fletcher, a former Baptist minister, has until the end of today -
his last
full day in office - to decide whether to grant pardons
and clemencies or
push for early paroles. Pardons traditionally
are granted at the end of an
outgoing governor's term.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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