Sunday, January 6, 2008

Free Gerald Hankerson

Dear Governor Gregoire:
Our Washington State Constitution asserts a belief in the rehabilitation of its felons as demonstrated by the very fact that it vested our State's governor with the pardoning power. Further, to assist the governor in the wise exercise of this power it created the Clemency Board; to review and commute the sentences of offenders in the most extraordinary of cases. On June 7, 2006, the Clemency Board voted unanimously in just such a case, and recommended clemency for Gerald Hankerson. In response to the Clemency Board's exceptionally favorable counsel, you "arrived at a different conclusion." This letter, on behalf of your community's leaders and the friends of Gerald Hankerson, and based upon the criteria herein, formally requests a reconsideration of your decision in order to balance the scales of justice.

Clemency empowers our State's Governor to pardon a person convicted of a crime or commute the sentence of a felon, often to time already served. Commutation reduces a criminal sentence. A pardon strikes the conviction from the books as if it never occurred, effectively wiping the slate clean. Gerald Hankerson is not asking for a clean slate per se, but fairness in sentencing. Gerald holds himself accountable for his involvement in the crime, but who, within our legal system, do we hold accountable for faulty jury instructions? By dropping the aggravating factor from his sentence, Gerald would be a candidate for the Department of Corrections Mutual Agreement Program (MAP). MAP is specifically tailored to offenders serving sentences for first-degree murder as a means to supervise an offender's transition back into the community. And the community would only benefit from Gerald's return.
Gerald has conducted himself in a manner both above and beyond what one would expect of a prisoner, and his positive demeanor is not typical among inmates. For a number of years, Gerald has had no serious infractions, has the maximum number of custody points, and is at the lowest security level possible for his sentence. Gerald has paid all his restitution and court fees, and has participated in numerous programs to benefit and better himself and others such as the Concerned Lifers Organization and Youths at Risk. Gerald has a positive and extensive support network in place as evidenced by the turnout at his clemency hearing; even the Clemency Board itself commented that they had never seen such an outpouring of support. Community leaders, councilmen, family and friends, all have invested a lot of time and effort in Gerald. He has a guaranteed four year college scholarship should he want to study, and he has a job with Korum Motors waiting for him. Most importantly he has good friends to turn to and guide him.
If our prison systems are intended to rehabilitate those incarcerated, to restore them to a useful life through therapy, education, and specialty programs to such a degree that they are able to contribute to themselves and become productive members of society, then our prison system has succeeded with Gerald Hankerson. But by denying his clemency, what message has now been sent to the rest of the prison population? What are they going to take from this decision? That positive change doesn't matter? That hard work and participation in state endorsed programs won't help their circumstances? That a unanimous decision by the Clemency Board means nothing?
Forgiveness, leniency, compassion, mercy: these words are the very definition of clemency. The reason you are reading this request today is not because of Gerald, but because of us, your constituents. Gerald would never have considered applying for clemency on his own accord; forgiveness seemed well beyond the realm of possibility. At our insistence he reached for the impossible by asking for leniency, and succeeded, unanimously so. We have seen Gerald grow over the decades, for indeed, a transformation of this magnitude is not one that happens overnight. Gerald's journey along this road of change has been a long and challenging one, and our compassion for him has never faltered. Mercy to those who have redeemed themselves is the right thing to do, and the very reason why clemency was established.
Often the most arduous task a leader must undertake, or the most difficult decision a leader has to make, is the morally correct one. We, the below signed petitioners, urge you, Governor Gregoire, to accept your Clemency Board's recommendation. Please reconsider this clemency based upon what is ethically, morally, and justifiably correct by Gerald S. Hankerson.

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