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Minnesota pardons bring 2nd chances, clear records

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — One man brought a former governor to vouch for him. Another cited his time on a Wisconsin city council as a testament to his life turnaround. A third, now a county probation officer, said his rebound from poor decisions makes him an example to parolees he currently counsels.

The three men and six other people won pardons Wednesday from the highest officials in Minnesota — a board comprised of the governor, the attorney general and Supreme Court chief justice — for crimes many years old.

The "pardon extraordinary" decisions effectively nullify convictions and, with rare exceptions, absolve offenders of responsibility to disclose them. Pardon seekers must have completed any sentence to be eligible.

Merle "Charlie" Bench, 71, got a pardon — and a sense that he had a second chance after a 2003 conviction for stealing $8,000 from the nonprofit where he briefly worked. Assuring the board he was "not the same person who was convicted," Bench described efforts to rebuild community trust through volunteerism and otherwise atone for the crime for which he served time in a county workhouse.

He had a powerful character witness: former Republican Gov. Al Quie, who got to know Bench through his longtime ministry in jails and prisons. Bench said he heads to a Minnesota prison every week to do his own prison ministry.

"I tell you I trust him anyplace," Quie said.

With the required unanimous vote, Bench left the room to a plea from Gov. Mark Dayton to "prove us right."

"Now I feel like I can hold my head up and no longer have to live in shame for what I did," Bench said afterward.

Dayton, Attorney General Lori Swanson and Chief Justice Lorie Gildea granted pardons for convictions of theft, drug crimes and disorderly conduct — some dating to the 1970s. With a single stroke, the board disposed of six convictions for a man who later became a decorated soldier for service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Eight people had requests denied, with board members considering the offenses too severe or judging that applicants hadn't done enough to accept responsibility for their crimes. The board historically has avoided pardons for crimes involving weapons, bodily harm or sex abuse.

One by one for three hours, the three leaders heard from applicants who said pardons would remove job obstacles or would ease the embarrassment of youthful indiscretions that stained records long into adulthood.

For Kevin Norbie, it means he'll be able to take his teenage son hunting. Now 44, Norbie said Wisconsin law restricted his ability to own a gun because of his 1991 conviction for felony theft in Minnesota.

"I did it and I've been sorry for it ever since," Norbie told board members of his crime.

Norbie was 24 at the time and stole from the Duluth convenience store where he was a night clerk. Since then, he joined the National Guard and served six years on the Superior, Wis., city council.

Bradley Rosenbrook, 41, shared his story of redemption and pride in being sober for two decades after getting caught selling drugs as a young adult in 1989. He's now a probation officer in western Minnesota who works with paroled convicts and supervises restorative justice programs.

He said his pardon could enable him to advance his career, but also provides "emotional closure and validation."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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