Ray Blanton; Ex-Governor of Tennessee

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Former Gov. Ray Blanton, who was ousted from office three days early amid a cash-for-clemency scandal and later went to prison for taking a payoff for a liquor license, died Friday of liver disease. He was 66.

Blanton, who was governor from 1975 to 1979 and a three-term congressman before that, had been in the hospital since Monday, awaiting a liver transplant.

His stint as governor ended abruptly in the waning days of his term after Blanton pardoned and commuted prison terms for 52 inmates, 24 of whom were serving time for murder.


Fearful that he would release more prisoners, fellow Democrats in the Legislature joined with Republicans to move up the inauguration of his GOP successor, Lamar Alexander, by three days.

Blanton was never charged in the scandal, but three aides were. The three were accused of accepting money in return for approving paroles for prisoners. Blanton continued issuing pardons even after those charges were brought, fueling legislators’ outrage. Two of the three aides were convicted and the third was acquitted.

In 1981, Blanton was convicted of unrelated charges of extortion and conspiracy for selling a liquor license for $23,000 to a friend while in office. Blanton served 22 months in a prison camp.

In 1985, the movie “Marie” was made about Blanton’s release of the prisoners and starred Sissy Spacek as Marie Ragghianti, the chairwoman of the state parole board who tried to blow the whistle on the corruption.

After his release from prison, Blanton became a radio commentator and sold prefabricated metal buildings. He continued attempting to clear his name with appeals.