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Gov. Crist backs a full pardon for wrongfully convicted Crotzer

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Gov. Crist backs a full pardon for wrongfully convicted Crotzer

Senior Editor

Gov. Charlie Crist wanted to grant DNA exoneree Alan Crotzer a full pardon and expunge his prior convictions to truly give him a fresh start in life.

But one thing stood in his way: a 2004 Florida Supreme Court decision.

Undeterred, Crist said to colleagues on the Cabinet, sitting as the Florida Board of Executive Clemency, on October 21: “We have a couple of new members over there, don’t we? And a couple more to come.”

The law, Crist said, is “whatever those judges say it is on any given day. We can, if we want, choose to send them a test.”

The governor then renewed his motion for a full pardon and expungement. There were no objections.

“So it is done,” Crist said, as 47-year-old Crotzer thrust his fists into the air and smiled broadly and gave thanks.

Taking a break to shake hands in the hallway with an elated Crotzer, Crist told reporters: “I am very proud of Alan Crotzer.”

The governor’s lead completed a second chance for Crotzer.

In 2006, Crotzer was exonerated by DNA evidence. Earlier this year, the Legislature compensated him $1.25 million for 24 years, six months, 13 days, and four hours he was wrongfully incarcerated for two rapes he did not commit.

But still, Crotzer told Crist, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Attorney General Bill McCollum, and Agricultural Commissioner Charlie Bronson, he doesn’t have a “new life completely.”

To illustrate his point, Crotzer told about a recent traffic stop in Levy County. When the officer ran his tag number, up popped his prison record and prior crimes: stealing Busch Light from a convenience store when he was 18; and introducing contraband into a Pasco County prison in 1991, while serving time for the rapes he didn’t commit, because, Crotzer said, a sergeant guard enlisted him to buy $100 pot from him and he was afraid to refuse.

At the traffic stop, he was pelted with a barrage of questions: How did you get out of prison and why? Next came a request to search his car, which he said he allowed because “it was 9:30 at night and I was by myself and there were too many of them.”

The same questions about his past linger when he tries to find housing, too.

“All I am asking today is that I be given an opportunity to have a brand new life. I am not the monster that they tried to make me out to be. Every day in prison, I tried to prove that, every single day,” Crotzer said. “I’m out and I’m still trying to prove it.”

Crotzer has proven his worth to Gov. Crist.

The governor — who gladly signed his $1.25 million compensation bill and then signed a waiver to allow Crotzer to work part-time at the Department of Juvenile Justice telling young people his story as a warning that one bad mistake can ruin your life — recommended a full pardon and expungement of Crotzer’s record.

“Are there any objections?” Crist asked his colleagues.

There were questions.

John Booth, assistant general counsel at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who was deemed an expert on the issue, came to the podium with this answer: “In the face of a conviction, I don’t know of a way — under the Florida Statutes, as construed by the Florida Supreme Court — for the record of that conviction to be expunged by the court.”

Booth referred to a November 18, 2004, case, R.J.L. v. State of Florida, (887 So.2d 1268 ), written by Justice Fred Lewis, which held that “a pardon does not have the effect of erasing guilt so that a conviction is treated as though it had never occurred. A pardoned individual can therefore not satisfy the requirements of section 943.0585(2)(e), and cannot qualify for a certificate of eligibility [for expungement of records].”

That 6-1 opinion upheld a 2001 First District Court of Appeal decision and disapproved a clashing Fifth District Court of Appeal’s 1992 holding in Doe v. State, (595 So.2d 212).

Justice Harry Lee Anstead wrote in his dissent: “Not only does the majority brush aside our unambiguous and clearly controlling precedent, it also strikes a blow to a fundamental principle of the separation of powers: that the executive alone possesses the power to pardon. Today, we have sharply curtailed that power by validating legislative limitations that clearly conflict with the fundamental principle that the executive alone possesses the power to pardon and to determine the conditions that may be placed upon a pardon.”

Of his decision to grab back executive power, Crist told reporters during a break: “I doubt anyone would challenge it.”

Now a free man with no prior record, Crotzer is setting his sights on another goal. He said he wants to get a college degree and become a prison inspector, and he has an appointment this month with Department of Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil to talk about his career goals.

“I know what goes on in there,” Crotzer said. “I can’t stop it, but maybe I can slow it down.. . . At the prisoners’ expense, there is corruption in prison. That’s what I had to live through. It’s ongoing. It’s pathetic. There is no one there for them. There was no one there for me,” Crotzer said.

“I’m not perfect. I don’t claim to be perfect. But I am asking for an opportunity to have a brand new life and do something good with my life. I want to stand in the gap for all of those people who are wrongfully convicted.”

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