Outgoing Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe says he will pardon his son, Kyle, in connection with a felony drug conviction from more than a decade ago. Also on Wednesday, he backpedaled on his intention to pardon another man with personal ties to him.
The Arkansas Parole Board recommended the pardon of Kyle Beebe, now 34, last month. He was in convicted in 2003 for possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and sentenced to three years' probation. According to parole board documents, police found two ounces of marijuana in Beebe's home.
He completed his probation in 2006, and, his father said Wednesday, has learned from his mistake.
"He's grown up a lot," the elder Beebe, a Democrat, told Arkansas TV station KATV. "Kids, when they're young, do stupid stuff. He was no different."
Beebe's announcement came the same day he put another pardon request on hold. That one was for convicted sex offender Michael E. Jackson, who has personal ties to the governor, and prosecutors and several state lawmakers had objected to his being pardoned.
Last week, Beebe's office announced his intention to pardon 34-year-old Jackson, who was convicted in 2008 of Internet stalking of a child.
On Wednesday, Beebe's office reversed course, saying it had received a copy of an affidavit in a child custody case that includes unspecified allegations against Jackson. The pardon would be granted, the governor said, only if those accusations "are found to be untrue." Beebe did not elaborate on the nature of those accusations.
In the 2008 case, Faulkner County prosecutor Cody Hiland says that Jackson was having a sexually explicit online conversation with what he thought was a 14-year-old girl on the Internet, and that he arranged to meet her at a Taco Bell. Jackson had actually been conversing with a police officer and was arrested shortly after. He was sentenced to two years in prison, of which he served less than four months, and to three years of probation. He completed his probation in January 2013 but must still register as a sex offender.
In a letter to the Arkansas Parole Board, Jackson called Gov. Beebe, his first football coach, a "father figure" who had "helped raise" him. "Mr. Beebe, you have known me since the day I was born," Jackson wrote to the governor. "You know my character.… Our personal relationship shouldn't sway you either way, but I do want to be a contributing member of society."
Jackson said in the letter that he is "in no shape or form a repeat offender" and that the incident occurred at "a time in my life that I lost myself and had clouded judgment." He said he wants to be a counselor and work with youth or coach sports.
Local prosecutors and sheriff's officials have objected to Jackson's pardon application. Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock called the fact that Jackson is eligible "ridiculous" in a statement to the parole board.
Still, in March, the Arkansas Parole Board recommended Jackson for a pardon.
Matt DeCample, the governor's spokesman, acknowledged that Jackson and the Beebe family had known each other for "a very long time."
"There's always going to be a human factor involved" in pardon requests, DeCample said. "I think in this case, the governor's personal knowledge of Mr. Jackson factored into his feeling that he would not be a risk to the public."
Several lawmakers and a prominent conservative group have come out against Jackson's planned pardon. In a statement Wednesday, the governor's office said "new information sometimes arises," which is "one of the reasons" the state requires a 30-day waiting period between the governor's stated intent to grant a pardon and its finalization.
Meanwhile, the governor's son is still on track to be pardoned.
In a letter to the parole board and the governor, Kyle Beebe said he's changed: "I was young and dumb. At that time in my life, I felt like I was missing something and I tried to fill that emptiness by selling drugs. ... Eleven years have passed since that time and I can assure you that I have learned from my mistake."
He also noted that he's now a husband and "proud father of two little girls."
"I'm asking for a second chance at life. I am asking for a second chance to be the man that I know I can be," he wrote.
The governor's office said he has issued hundreds of pardons during his time in office, and that his son's pardon does not constitute special treatment. The governor intends to pardon nearly a dozen people with similar drug offenses, according to a list posted last week.
"If you took his son's name off the file, it would look like a lot of other people the governor has issued pardons to, as well ... people who committed nonviolent crimes as a first offense when they were young," said Matt DeCample, the governor's spokesman.
DeCample noted that as with many other pardon cases, Kyle Beebe has completed all of his sentencing requirements and has not been in trouble with the law since.
Public opinion polls continue to show a softening of attitudes toward marijuana, and drug sentencing in particular. Last year, a clear majority in a Gallup national poll -- 58% of those surveyed -- for the first time said the drug should be legalized.
In California, the recent passage of Proposition 47 will reduce sentences for drug possession, among other nonviolent crimes.
On the timing of Kyle Beebe's pardon, the governor said he would have granted one to his son sooner if he had asked earlier. The governor is scheduled to leave office in January after two terms in office.
Though it's unusual for outgoing office-holders to pardon close family members, politicians often leave the most controversial executive acts for the eleventh hour of their terms.
In the final hours of his presidency, Bill Clinton pardoned his half-brother, Roger, for a 1980s drug conviction.
In 2011, on his final night in office, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced the prison sentence of the son of former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, Esteban Nunez, who had pleaded guilty to participating in the killing of a college student. Over the objections of prosecutors, Schwarzenegger cut Nunez's prison term from 16 years to seven years.