‘A completely different man:' Minnesotans ask forgiveness from Pardon Board

Convicted Minnesotans asked powerful state officials for mercy Thursday, the last people to do so before the state Pardon Board undergoes major changes to its membership.

Come January, two members of the three-person panel will be different. Gov. Mark Dayton and Attorney General Lori Swanson will depart when their terms are up, and incoming Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General-elect Keith Ellison will take their places. Chief Justice Lorie Gildea will remain on the board.

There was no rash of pardons for low-level offenders during Dayton and Swanson’s final meeting. Instead, 18 Minnesotans asked forgiveness for crimes that ranged from theft to making terroristic threats.

“It was a horrible mistake that I regret every day when I wake up, to this day,” said Ahmed Aden of Rochester, convicted in 2005 for writing fraudulent checks.

Aden works as a Somali interpreter in Rochester, but said he was unable to finish his degree in physical therapy because no clinical program would accept him with a felony conviction. The Pardon Board voted unanimously to grant him a pardon, one of several approved Thursday.

The state Pardon Board granted 63 of the 180 applications it received from 2013 through 2017, or 35 percent, online records indicate.

Minnesota’s process is unlike many other states, where the governor alone decides whether someone receives a pardon. In Wisconsin, outgoing Gov. Scott Walker has declined to hear pardon requests over his eight years in office.

Several of the Minnesota applicants made odd arguments for their convictions to be set aside at Thursday’s hearing.

Jessyca McGuire, convicted in 1998 of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in Ramsey County, said she had a letter from her victim in support of her pardon request. But she could not produce the letter at the Pardon Board hearing, claiming neither she nor her lawyer had printed it out. The board denied McGuire’s pardon.

Dayton, who continues to recovery from back surgeries and resulting lung damage this fall, often started each case by asking the applicant to explain what crime he or she had committed. Some of the applicants downplayed their convictions, drawing rebukes from the Pardon Board.

“You’re minimizing what happened,” Swanson told Thomas Knutson, convicted of identity theft in 2006 for using someone else’s Social Security number in Hennepin County. Knutson promoted his poetry but failed to mention previous convictions in his application for a pardon, Swanson said. Knutson’s pardon was denied.

The board meets twice a year.