President pardons Utah man after 38 years
James Banks was working at Hill Air Force Base in 1972 when he says he was busted for stealing plywood and nails from a construction site.
It was a distant memory until nine years ago when Banks went to buy a pistol and was refused. Prosecutors had charged the Liberty man with a felony possession of government property for the crime 38 years ago, and the conviction had stayed on his record ever since.
But Friday morning, as Banks, now 66, and his wife were headed to Las Vegas for a rodeo, he got a call with some good news: President Barack Obama would be issuing a pardon for Banks' crime, essentially wiping his record clean.
"What a mess," Banks said in a telephone interview during a rest stop Friday afternoon.
Banks was just 27 when he was charged with taking less than $500 worth of wood and nails from a work site.
"I didn't lose my job over it. I spent 29 years out at Hill Air Force Base.
"I got two days without pay, and the FBI was overwhelmed by the fact that, 'How the hell did this get to be a felony?' " Banks said. "And I said, 'You're 27 years old and you're standing in front of the judge shaking in your shoes.' You just do whatever they say."
Banks said he has acted responsibly ever since and hasn't been in trouble but still was rejected when he went to buy a pistol and failed a background check. So he hired an attorney who went to work to try to clear Banks' record.
"Hell, I hadn't heard anything for two years," Banks said.
Banks expressed some ambivalence about the pardon it's an episode from his past that he's not eager to see splashed across the newspapers and television.
But the pardons Obama issued Friday mark the first of his administration.
None of the nine were convicted of serious crimes. One was convicted of mutilating coins, another of liquor violations. Seven of the nine were sentenced to probation, and the other two were sentenced to a total of three years for drug charges.
Banks "is kind of normal in the sense that most pardons are kind of like his: They've served their time and taken care of all their fines and integrated themselves back into society," said P.S. Ruckman, a political science professor who studies pardons at Rock Valley College in Illinois.
"There's this misconception that pardons spring people from prison and toss people out on the streets â¦ and that's just not the case," he said.
Ruckman said the nine Obama pardons also illustrate another trend.
In the 1940s, pardons were typically issued five to six years after a conviction. That has crept up to 22 years during President George W. Bush's administration, and the Obama batch came an average of 28 years after the conviction.
"What it tells you is increasingly the people who get these pardons â¦ they're the people who benefit from them the least," he said. The pardoned individuals are typically much older, rather than young people with families whose crime could hinder them from getting a job.
The last Utahn to be pardoned was David Woolsey, whom Bush pardoned in December 2008 for looting archaeological sites in 1991.
A month earlier, Bush also commuted the sentence of musician John Forte, a former member of The Fugees, after appeals from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and singer Carly Simon.
Nate Carlisle contributed to this report.
President Barack Obama's pardons Friday
James Bernard Banks, Liberty, Utah
Offense • Illegal possession of government property, sentenced Oct. 31, 1972, to two years of probation.
Russell James Dixon, Clayton, Ga.
Offense • Felony liquor law violation, sentenced June 23, 1960, to two years of probation.
Laurens Dorsey, Syracuse, N.Y.
Offense • Conspiracy to defraud the United States by making false statements, sentenced Aug. 31, 1998, to five years of probation and $71,000 restitution.
Ronald Lee Foster, Beaver Falls, Penn.
Offense • Mutilation of coins, sentenced Oct. 4, 1963, to one year of probation and a $20 fine.
Timothy James Gallagher, Navasota, Texas
Offense • Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine, sentenced Oct. 18, 1982, to three years' probation.
Roxane Kay Hettinger, Powder Springs, Ga.
Offense • Conspiracy to distribute cocaine, sentenced March 31, 1986, to 30 days in jail followed by three years of probation.
Edgar Leopold Kranz Jr., Minot, N.D.
Offense • Adultery, wrongful use of cocaine and writing three insufficient-fund checks, court-martial Nov. 4, 1994, bad conduct discharge and 24 months of confinement.
Floretta Leavy, Rockford, Ill.
Offense • Distribution of cocaine, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, sentenced Oct. 19, 1984, to a year and a day in prison and three years' special parole.
Scoey Lathaniel Morris, Crosby, Texas
Offense • Passing counterfeit obligations or securities, sentenced May 21, 1999, to three years' probation and $1,200 restitution.
Source • Department of Justice