A joint pardon request by prosecutors and a Richmond man who says he served 29 years in prison for a 1986 sex crime he did not commit was delivered Wednesday to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), putting the case in the hands of elected officials.
Attorneys for Michael Kenneth McAlister, 58, and Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring (D) also have asked state Attorney General Mark D. Herring (D) to drop an effort to lock away McAlister for years more under a Virginia law that allows the civil commitment of sexual predators.
McAlister’s requests are unusual in that he has the support of several law enforcement officials — some who helped convict him — who now are convinced another man committed the attack.
Still, pardons and commutations are often seen as posing political risks with few benefits for officeholders. Since taking office last year, McAuliffe has granted 13 of 26 pardon requests, but most of those have gone to long-released convicts or inmates who were dying, and none were given an absolute pardon erasing their criminal record.
“All pardon petitions undergo a thorough and complete review by the secretary of the commonwealth’s office in conjunction with the parole board and recommendations are then sent to the governor,”McAuliffe spokeswoman Rachel Thomas said.
The office of state Attorney General Herring, who is not related to the Richmond prosecutor, declined to comment because it might have to advise McAuliffe on the pardon request, spokesman Michael Kelly said.
A probable cause hearing in the civil commitment case is set for May 18.
McAlister was convicted of a Feb. 23, 1986, attempted rape and kidnapping in which a man wearing a stocking mask and wielding a knife attacked a 22-year-old mother, who later identified McAlister from a police photo array.
However, Richmond prosecutor Herring and McAlister’s lawyers said they believe the attack was committed by a man named Norman Bruce Derr, who strongly resembles McAlister, was a suspect in Richmond laundry room rapes, and has been convicted and imprisoned for a growing list of similar attacks. Three police detectives have detailed that in 1985 or 1986, they followed Derr to the woman’s apartment complex, saw him pulling a stocking mask over his face and thought he was planning to assault an undercover female police officer who was there as a decoy.
Herring and McAlister’s attorneys wrote, the officers “believe it is highly improbable that another stocking-mask-wearing, knife-wielding, 6-foot-tall white man with shoulder-length blond hair was terrorizing women at night in the Town & Country apartment complex laundry rooms during that same period in time.”
Virginia governors have granted pardon requests joined by prosecutors about seven times in the past, including three cases that did not involve DNA claims, according to the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which along with Washington law firm Miller & Chevalier represents McAlister.
Apart from McAlister’s petition, McAuliffe has said he will take a close look at the case of Bobbie Morman, who was convicted in 1993 of a drive-by shooting to which another man has confessed. He has also been pressured to pardon Travis Blount, who at 15 was given six life sentences for his role in a 2006 armed robbery.
McAuliffe’s immediate predecessor, former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R), granted a pardon to Johnathan Montgomery, who was in prison for sexual battery until his accuser recanted and was convicted of perjury. But the pardon was given only on the condition that the Virginia Court of Appeals declare Montgomery innocent.
Both governors supported the less controversial matter of restoring voting rights for convicted felons, with McAuliffe doing so for more than 6,500 offenders.