Thanksgiving week, the president of the United States is always so busy with official duties -- or avoiding them -- that he pardons a selected turkey. The bird, they tell us, is then set free. Ignored, of course, is the reality that the gobbler’s entire extended family is dinner for the rest of us.

Pardoned, the turkey struts into the annals of American jurisprudence. Some famous pardons include:

r Richard M. Nixon, pardoned by president Gerald Ford for conduct surrounding the Watergate scandal, leading to impeachment proceedings;

r 140 people pardoned by Bill Clinton on the last day of his presidency, January 20, 2001, including FALN terrorists and billionaire contributor Marc Rich;

r Thousands of former Confederate officials and military personnel pardoned by President Andrew Jackson after the Civil War;

r Six Reagan administration officials accused and/or convicted in connection with the Iran-Contra matter, pardoned by president George H.W. Bush;

r “Scooter” Libbey, not technically pardoned, but sentence commuted by President George W. Bush.

Justice Department guidelines require waiting five years after conviction or release prior to receiving a pardon. But the president can grant a pardon at any time, as when President Ford pardoned Nixon prior to formal criminal charges.

You can even be pardoned after you’re dead. President Clinton pardoned Henry O. Flipper 59 years after the former military officer’s death. Flipper was court marshaled for embezzlement of commissary funds.

Most governors also have pardon power. In New Hampshire, between 1990 and 2007, only three people were pardoned:

r Leonard C. Spitale, pardoned by then Gov. Stephen Merrill of a 1966 assault and robbery charge. Spitale, an evangelistic minister, requested a pardon so he could go to Canada to do prison ministry there.

r June Briand, also pardoned by Gov. Merrill, of second degree murder charges in the 1987 death of her husband, Jimmy. June was said to suffer battered wife syndrome.

r Keith Andrew McNeil, pardoned of two 1999 assault charges by then Gov. Craig Benson in 2003, enabling McNeil to serve in the New Hampshire Army National Guard.

Not as lucky as the Thanksgiving turkey, Pamela Smart has never been pardoned. She continues to serve a life sentence without parole for her role behind the murder of husband Greg Smart. Several pardon applications were rejected.

Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, in July 1976, pardoned Edward Brown, convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon and armed robbery in connection with an attack on a man in Somerville. Brown moved to New Hampshire, where he and his wife refused to pay federal income taxes, failed to participate in their trial, and then, after conviction, staged a lengthy standoff with local, state and federal law enforcement. Brown goes into the holiday season residing at the Federal Correctional Institute in Elkton, Ohio. His wife, Elaine, gets her mail at the federal pen in Danbury, Conn.

I give thanks that I have never committed a pardonable offense, other than, perhaps, writing this column. I am thankful that I live in this country, where the First Amendment allows reporting of such things. I give thanks that we are a country of laws and not "men" (read: people) so that the personal aspect of enforcing laws is, ideally anyhow, minimized.

Finally, I am thankful they have not pardoned all of the turkeys.


Andrew Myers of Derry has law offices in Derry and North Andover, Mass. He is a member of the American Association for Justice and the New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. Send questions to

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