RICHMOND, Va. -- Gov. Ralph Northam and state officials celebrated their historic work providing thousands of Virginians who were formerly incarcerated with redemption.
Returning citizens and those who received absolute or conditional pardons shared their stories of second chances under the shadow of the Emancipation and Freedom Monument on Brown’s Island.
“One bad decision can radically change the trajectory of their lives for the worst,” said Jarrod Brown, who was jailed for two weeks in college for assaulting a person after drinking.
Emerson Stevens spoke about shouting for joy when he heard Gov. Northam approved his absolute pardon for a crime he didn’t commit.
“I have my family back, my children and my grandchildren,” he said.
Clemency provides a second chance to an individual who accepted responsibility, paid their debts to society, and, in some cases, their sentences span decades for non-violent offenses, according to Secretary of Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson.
“We are here to celebrate each of you for your willingness and desire to grow and change, your hardworking and perseverance,” she explained.
Gov. Northam told the crowd on a chilly Friday in Richmond that all humans make mistakes.
“We are a Commonwealth that believes in second chances. We want people to move forward, not to be tied down by the mistakes of their past,” Northam said.
However, one pardon that has made statewide headlines has Northam defending his decision to release Blair Dacey from prison 13 years early.
Dacey was 18 years old in Colonial Heights when she was charged with second-degree murder after she kicked Rusty Mack causing him to fall and hit his head.
The news of her impending release came as a shock to Mack’s parents.
"What is he thinking?" Mike Mack said about Governor Northam's decision to grant Dacey a conditional pardon. "She was convicted by her peers and sentenced."
Now, lawmakers are weighing in on the controversial decision.
State Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) called her conviction “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in giving 20 years to this teenager.”
Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and Delegate-elect Mike Cherry released a joint statement about the conditional pardon.
“We are both deeply concerned by the manner in which Governor Northam has issued a conditional pardon for Blair Dacey. The sheer lack of input from Rusty Mack’s family is wrong, and once again confirms that the Governor’s version of ‘justice’ ignores victims,” the statement read.
CBS 6 asked Northam to respond to the statement following Friday’s celebration.
“First of all, I really feel for Mr. Mack’s family. I’m a pediatric neurologist and I’ve worked with hospice, families that have lost a loved one, especially a child. I don’t think there’s anything more difficult,” Northam stated. “We take the pardons very deliberate. We look at each one individually. They can often become very complicated, a lot of different sides to the story. I believe in second chances, I believe in the pardon system, and Ms. Dacey was given a pardon.”
Northam was then asked if anything stood out about Dacey’s case that led him to issue her a pardon.
“Each case is individual. They’re very complex, it takes listening to a lot of people. We’ve given over 700 pardons, and I believe in second chances. I don’t really want to comment further on each individual pardon,” he responded.
Northam’s administration is working to issue additional pardons by his final day of January 15.