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Amid Scandal, Missouri Governor Issues Commutations and Pardons, Passes New Laws Before Resigning

by Dale Chappell

As his resignation was about to take effect late on June 1, 2018, scandal-plagued Missouri Governor Eric Greitens pardoned five convicted felons, commuted the sentences of four others and signed 77 new bills into law – including one that makes it illegal to post the same type of “revenge porn” that led to his own downfall.

Had he remained in office, Greitens may have become Missouri’s first governor to be impeached by the legislature, where he faced charges of official misconduct after a recording surfaced of a phone call he made to his hairdresser’s husband, claiming he had taken partially nude photos of the woman and threatening to release them if she exposed her 2015 affair with Greitens, who is also married. The new law that Greitens signed before leaving office makes it a crime to electronically transmit a compromising photo of a person without their consent.

An investigation by the office of Attorney General Josh Hawley also discovered that Greitens’ 2016 campaign illegally solicited contributions from people who made donations to a veterans charity the governor had started in 2007, called Mission Continues.

In April 2018, a St. Louis grand jury indicted Greitens on a felony count of tampering with the charity’s computer data to benefit his 2016 political campaign. A separate grand jury in Jackson County indicted him in February 2018 for felony invasion of privacy in the attempted blackmail of his former mistress. Jackson County Circuit Attorney Jean Peters Baker dropped the latter charge, but referred it to a special prosecutor for reconsideration. Greitens has admitted to the affair but denied any wrongdoing.

A 44-year-old former Navy SEAL officer, Greitens won election in 2016 with a pledge to crack down on alleged corruption in state government. His resignation was part of a deal to get St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner to drop the other outstanding felony charge related to misuse of his charity’s donor list. That charge cannot be reinstated. But the Missouri Ethics Commission continues to investigate the overlapping rosters of employees in Greitens’ campaign, his PAC and Mission Continues.

“I know, and people of good faith know, that I am not perfect, but I have not broken any laws nor committed any offense worthy of this treatment,” Greitens said.

The outgoing governor sought to shift the focus to accomplishments of his short-lived administration – including his eleventh-hour commutations and pardons.

One commuted sentence was that of Jessie McKim, who was serving a life term “for a crime [murder] he did not commit,” Greitens said, noting that a half-dozen experts now believe the cause of death established at McKim’s 1998 trial was incorrect.

Also commuted to time served was the sentence of Alvis Williams, who was incarcerated for stealing a Walkman and VCR 23 years ago. Although the crimes today carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, and the prosecutors at the time had hoped for 20 years, Williams received an 80-year sentence.

Verdia Miller, 75, had the remaining 15 years of her 50-year sentence for murder commuted due to new exculpatory evidence. The same was true of Rodney Lincoln, who was convicted 34 years ago based in part on the testimony of a seven-year-old eyewitness who as an adult has called for his release.

A full pardon went to Stacey Lannert, who at 16 shot and killed her sexually abusive father when she discovered he was also raping her younger sister. Though her sentence had been commuted in 2009, Greitens pardoned Lannert – who is now a public defender – in order to clear her record. Lannert said she has “learned that every human being has capacity to change,” but at the time felt that killing her father was the only way to stop his abuse.

“I’m sorry I didn’t allow my father to have the opportunity to change,” she stated.

Lannert’s sister was also convicted in 1991, of conspiracy to commit murder. The siblings had paid $5,000 to have their father killed, but when the hitman didn’t show up, Stacey took a gun and shot him herself.

Two additional pardons went to former prisoners Judy Henderson, whose sentence had been commuted in December 2017 after she served over 35 years, and Betty Coleman, who received a commutation in 2004. Both women had played inadvertent roles in murders committed by their boyfriends.

Two final pardons were issued to Gary Thomas, a former Marine who had no prior criminal record other than a fistfight, and to Mark Whittle, who has had a clean record since completing probation for a DWI charge in 1996. Whittle was the Missouri Department of Mental Health’s Employee of the year in 2009. 

Sources: www.stlpublicradio.org, www.cbsnews.com, The New Yorker