Gov. Jerry Brown of California stands for many things, but coward comes to mind when describing his character for many of his actions. His latest decision to refuse a pardon is but one of the most recent examples where Brown has exercised nervous discretion.
The California Constitution empowers the Governor to grant clemency, including pardons, at his discretion and on conditions he deems proper. Pardons do not erase the conviction; they forgive the crime. We live in a nation that believes in rehabilitation and forgiveness, but Brown once again ignored these principles and instead put his finger to the wind before making a decision as to whether to pardon Leslie Van Houten, who was convicted of murder, along with other followers of Charlie Manson, a deranged cultist. True enough, the crimes were horrific and deserved substantial punishment. But 47 years in prison is sufficient.
When Brown says Van Houten still posed “an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison”, he is being disingenuous. A California Review Board, after careful deliberation and thought, recommended parole for Van Houten. She was 19 at the time of the crime and has a clean prison record, earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees while locked up. Moreover, Van Houten was under the influence of LSD and Manson and his aggressive co-defendants at the particular time of the acts. It took three trials to convict her, there is a strong belief among scholars that she should not have been convicted, and until the California Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, she anguished over the moment of her execution– a horrifying endeavor. Gov Brown’s purely political decision to deny parole was gutless, exactly what you would expect from him.