Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wrongly convicted Fla. man pardoned

October 23, 2008

Bill Kaczor-Fort Mill Times-Fort Mill, SC

Alan Crotzer already has received $1.25 million in compensation for spending more than 24 years in prison for crimes he didn't commit, and Tuesday he was pardoned for two other offenses.

Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet unanimously forgave him for stealing beer in 1979 when he was 18 years old and introducing contraband - marijuana - while he was in prison in 1991.

"I just think it's important that when somebody obviously has changed their life that you recognize that, you give them a second chance," Crist said. "I'm very proud of Alan Crotzer."

Crist had urged the Legislature to pass Crotzer's compensation bill and he signed it into law earlier this year.

Crotzer was released after 24 years, 6 months and 13 days when DNA evidence in 2006 proved he was innocent of abducting and raping two women from a Tampa home during a robbery. He doesn't need a pardon for those 1982 convictions because they have been overturned in court.

He hopes the pardon will help him achieve his dream of returning to prison as an inspector for the Department of Corrections.

"I put so much behind me, but there's so much in front of me I've got to do," Crotzer said afterward. "Prison offers nothing but corruption and chaos and mayhem. They can hardly feed them, clothe them or house them, and there needs to be some reform."

The governor and Cabinet, sitting as the Board of Executive Clemency, also ordered that records of the two crimes be expunged, although a lawyer for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement argued that couldn't be done.

FDLE Assistant General Counsel John Booth cited a 2004 Florida Supreme Court ruling saying under state law a pardon cannot be used to expunge records when there's a guilty finding because it "does not have the effect of eliminating guilt or the fact of conviction." It can be used, though, is cases where judges withhold adjudication of guilt.

Justice Harry Lee Anstead dissented from the 6-1 ruling. He wrote that the majority had overturned a legal precedent going back more than a century that says a pardon "blots out the existence of guilt."

Crist said the law is whatever the Supreme Court says it is on any given day.

"They have a couple new members over there don't they? A couple might come," Crist said. "We can, if we want, send them a test."

Crist recently appointed two new justices and two more are leaving next year, including Anstead, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 in March.

"There is gray area," said Crotzer's lawyer, Mark Schlakman, board chairman of the Innocence Project of Florida. "The governor and Cabinet sitting as the Clemency Board have extraordinary power, virtually unbridled power within this realm."

Crotzer, 47, said he wants to keep showing the world "I'm not that monster they try to make me be. I am a new person."

Until the compensation bill was enacted, Crotzer supported himself by working for a plant nursery in Tallahassee, where he now lives. He's now working part-time for the Department of Juvenile Justice speaking with young delinquents about what can happen to them if they don't turn away from crime.

Although wrongly convicted in 1982, Crotzer acknowledged he erred in the beer theft, which resulted in a robbery conviction. He said he remained outside a store while some friends went in to take the beer.

Crotzer told the board he took the rap for bringing marijuana into prison rather than snitch on a guard. He said the guard smuggled it in and ordered him to sell it.

"They knew somebody brought it to me, but they wanted me tell on him, and I couldn't tell on him and survive I don't think," Crotzer said.

He is one of nine Florida convicts proven innocent by DNA. Eight have been freed. One died just before he was exonerated.

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