By KEITH LAING
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Dec. 9, 2010……….The decision Thursday by outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist and the Clemency Board to posthumously pardon late Doors lead singer Jim Morrison produced the most-watched meeting in recent memory.
But not much of the attention went to cases like Rick Hootes’.
“I was just the one right after him,” Hootes told the News Service of Florida of the noticeable difference in attention between his case and that of Morrison, who was given a pardon in a case in which he was convicted of exposing himself at a Miami area concert in 1969.
Hootes, a Flagler Beach resident who said he was convicted for striking a police officer with a machete was asking the panel to clear his record after denying the altercation had happened. However, Crist and the Cabinet, who also serve as the state’s clemency board, decided to only restore his voting rights.
“I thought I was going for a pardon,” Hootes lamented after his quick proceeding. “Civil rights is just voting rights, right? Everyone’s got them. I didn’t get (anything) done today. Like everybody told me, I should’ve gotten a lawyer.”
Hootes and Morrison were just two of 80 cases before the Clemency Board. But Morrison’s 40-year-old case generated most of the media attention inside and outside of Florida. By Thursday afternoon, “Jim Morrison Pardon” was among the top searches listed on Google.com’s trends page.
Not everyone who shared the agenda Thursday with the deceased rocker was troubled by the outsized spotlight on his decades-old case. Former St. Petersburg resident Forrest Murphy, who now resides in Atlanta, Ga., said it was “kind of cool” to be considered on the same day as Morrison, who Murphy said he was a fan of.
“I can go back and tell my friends I did see Jim Morrison get clemency,” said Murphy, 54, whose own bid to have his rights to own guns restored was not as successful as the Doors’ front man. “I read his book. I’m a big fan.”
But Murphy, who said he was arrested 30 years ago for a striking a police officer during a fight, said he wished the Clemency Board would have been as lenient on him as it was on the deceased musician.
“A lot of good it did me,” he said of sharing the Clemency Board agency with Morrison, who’s memory Murphy said he did not want to disrespect. “I’d rather have the clemency. People who know me will tell you I’m a good guy. I sponsor a child overseas; that’s the kind of guy I am.”
Arlisia Relford, whose 41-year-old husband Rick’s civil rights were restored by Crist and the Cabinet Wednesday, agreed. Morrison’s case took up a lot of time “for somebody who’s dead,” she said.
Had the Clemency Board not gotten to her husband’s case, “that would have been a real problem,” she quickly added.
However, another person up for pardon Wednesday, 74-year-old Leesburg resident Jim Hand, appealed for mercy from Crist and the Cabinet by comparing himself to another celebrity who has been given redemption of late, football player Michael Vick. Vick is playing in the National Football League again after serving jail time for dog fighting, which Hand reminded the panel.
“I don’t have Michael Vick’s talent or his fame, but I do have his tenacity,” he said. “I did the crime, I did the time and I ask you to give me a chance….” he said.
Hand, who said he was convicted for showing a concealed weapon during an altercation with another man 10 years ago, was given back his civil rights, but not pardoned. He said after his proceeding that he wasn’t sure whether it was a good idea to revisit the Morrison case.
“I can understand the compassion angle, but I feel what he did what was wrong,” he said. “I think celebrities in our culture get a better shake. They’ve got the money, they’ve got the lawyers. They can get the high-priced lawyers the average citizen can’t afford. They buy freedom.”
The difference in attention was also not lost on at least one member of the Clemency Board, Attorney General Bill McCollum. The outgoing AG said he wasn’t really in favor of the pardon, but decided to “acquiesce” to his colleagues on the panel.
“I understand there are a lot of fans of the Doors out there (but) this case is overshadowing – simply because of its celebrity status – the rest of what goes on today,” he said after Crist spoke in favor of pardoning Morrison and one former police officer spoke against it. “This is by far a lesser case in significance in terms of its impact on the lives of people … than, certainly any other (case).”
But Crist, who made the motion to pardon Morrison, defended the attention the case had received.
“Just because we’re here on this one case, which is taking a lot less time than many others we’ve seen today, it will say how our state and this board feels about these issue of pardon and forgiveness at a time of year when that’s pretty darn important,” Crist said.