Republican VP nominee Mike Pence just issued the most cowardly decision in his term as Indiana’s Governor, which also included his spineless signature of the RFRA Law aimed at legalizing anti-gay discrimination. Now the Republican is “defying reason” and refusing to pardon a completely innocent African-American man Keith Cooper, who was exonerated by the parole board for being innocent of the crime that put him behind bars for a decade.
Keith Cooper is still facing a lifetime of housing and job discrimination as a convicted felon, even though he’s a free man today, fully innocent in the eyes of the parole board, and the many letters to the editor decrying Pence’s cowardly actions. One of the state’s most prominent newspapers just urged the Republican governor to act immediately to pardon Cooper for the 1996 crime that he did not commit. Buzzfeed reports:
After waiting for more than two years for Governor Mike Pence to act on the board’s decision, Cooper has learned that the GOP vice presidential candidate won’t — unless Cooper can prove to the governor’s administration that all other judicial remedies have been exhausted.
After serving 10 years of a 40 year prison sentence for an Indiana armed robbery and attempted murder, Keith Cooper was freed when eyewitnesses recanted their testimony against him, new DNA evidence showed he wasn’t at the scene of the crime, and a jailhouse informant admitted that he lied to investigators. Five years later, Cooper filed a pardon petition that, if it were granted, would make him the first person in the state’s history granted clemency based on a finding of innocence. When his request was presented to the parole board, they found unanimously that he should be pardoned and have the two serious felony charges wiped from his record.
It all sounds so reasonable, waiting for all judicial remedies to be exhausted, except that that has already happened! But the Republican Governor who balances the Trump ticket’s racial hatred and religious discrimination with misogyny and anti-LGBT sentiment, probably just wouldn’t like the optics of being just and clearing the name of an African-American male, wrongly convicted of a crime. In fact, Cooper’s lawyer has already expressed that the victim of injustice is in fact out of court appeals already:
An Indiana Public Defender submitted a letter in Cooper’s petition to the governor for a pardon saying that by accepting a lesser sentence and withdrawing his post-conviction petition, Cooper was out of options with the courts to grant his innocence. However, the Pence administration does not see this as proof that Cooper’s only option to have his conviction thrown out is the governor’s pardon.
Pence isn’t running for Governor while campaigning with Donald Trump, because after his RFRA debacle, nobody in either party wants him in office. Additionally, he spurred the Periods for Pence movement, which has grown into the national Periods for Politicians movement to fight against the Republican Party’s “War on Women” which has been on full display this week as the Trump Campaign vacillates between fat shaming and slut shaming. Political observers say, Pence’s petty denials are no more than kicking the can down the road to his successor.
Democratic Gubernatorial nominee John Greg has pledged through a spokesman that, “based on media reports and the limited information we have on the case” if elected Gregg intends to pardon Keith Cooper. His Republican opponent hasn’t commented.
Sign Keith Cooper’s petition to have this week’s VP Debate moderators ask Governor Pence why he hasn’t pardoned Keith Cooper yet:
— Pardon Keith Cooper (@PardonKeith) October 3, 2016
Grant Stern is an Editor-At-Large for OccupyDemocrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and a senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition