Gov. Jay Nixon showed himself to be a safely benevolent Santa this week.
Nixon thawed from his record of having granted just one clemency during all of his years in office. The governor granted nine pardons for crimes such as pot possession, theft and burglary. All were nonviolent offenders and all had finished their sentences.
Nothing is wrong with the decisions. A governor’s pardon is a reminder that many people do redeem themselves after running afoul of the law.
But Nixon left tougher requests waiting. Those cases were publicized in late October by a new coalition concerned about women who have received sentences disproportionate to their crimes, especially when compared with similar acts committed by men. Some of the 14 women had been victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse. Yes, some of the women murdered their husbands.
Former Missouri governor Bob Holden — along with legal scholars, domestic violence advocates and a retired Missouri appeals court judge — is part of Community Coalition for Clemency. It’s a thoughtful, skilled group that recognizes some sentences doled out decades ago to women were far harsher than what would be given today under similar circumstances.
Nixon spent 16 years as the state’s attorney general. His experience should mean that he understands inequities within our justice system and how societal views can shape sentencing.
The cases cited are complicated and take time to study in depth. The coalition maintains that many of the women had no direct role in committing the violence associated with their cases. One case involves a woman who was sexually and physically abused by her father and brother. Her boyfriend crept into their house and shot her parents — murdering the girl’s mother. She was only 17 when she made a plea deal that sentenced her to two consecutive life terms.
Double standards and society’s often twisted interest when women are associated with violence have colored prosecutions and sentencing in the past. Yet 2014 has been a tremendous year for advancing awareness and debate about violence that predominantly affects women — notably with NFL scandals and attention to sexual assault on campuses and in the military.
Clearly, societal attitudes have and will continue to shift. It would be a bold, significant step for Nixon to find one case for leniency among those presented by the coalition.