A stroke of the governor’s pen pardoned Wayne Stallsworth for his one and only felony.
But according to the Missouri Court of Appeals, his guilt still remains — 55 years after he admitted to stealing some beer and cigarettes from a trailer.
And because of that, the court ruled this week that Jackson County officials rightfully denied the 73-year-old Independence man’s application to carry a concealed weapon.
If Stallsworth had gone to trial and been convicted by a jury, then the 2004 pardon by then-Missouri Gov. Bob Holden would have allowed him to carry a firearm.
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But because he pleaded guilty, the court found that he could not.
“It’s ridiculous,” Stallsworth said Thursday. “They say you have to pay your debt to society, but when is that debt ever paid?”
Although the court noted it was sympathetic to Stallsworth’s argument, it was “constitutionally bound” to rule against him.
The ruling came down to the “either … or” wording in Missouri law.
“An applicant who has either pleaded guilty to or who has been convicted of a felony may not receive a concealed carry permit,” the court’s opinion stated. “… The guilty plea is a separate disqualifier that is not obliterated by the pardon.”
The court noted in its opinion that it didn’t believe lawmakers meant to create two separate “disqualifiers.”
Stallsworth and his attorney, Kevin Jamison, argued in the case that reading the law that way “means that a felon who takes responsibility for a crime is viewed as morally more culpable than a felon who refuses to admit guilt.”
Jamison, a gun-rights advocate, said it is the kind of case he writes about in his column: “It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s just the law.”
Stallsworth was 17 when he and a couple of friends broke into a trailer to steal beer and cigarettes. They got caught, and in 1960 he pleaded guilty to burglary.
He lived with the consequences of that youthful indiscretion until 2004, when Holden granted him a full pardon.
The next year, he applied for and received a concealed-carry permit from the sheriff of Buchanan County, Mo., where he lived at the time.
His permit was renewed in 2008 and 2011.
“I never pulled my gun out,” he said. “I never fired it.”
But when he moved to Jackson County and applied in 2014, he was denied because of the 1960 conviction.
“I have a right to protect myself,” he said Thursday.
Stallsworth filed in a small-claims case in Jackson County, and the court found in his favor. But the sheriff’s office requested a trial, and a Jackson County Circuit Court judge upheld the sheriff’s original ruling.
Stallsworth’s appeal was the basis of this week’s Appeals Court ruling.
Jamison, who assisted Stallsworth on his appeal, said he believes the case should be appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.
Stallsworth, however, said he can’t afford the cost of continuing his appeal.