The pardons for Robert Thornton and Eric Hinckley mark the first time Otter has used his authority to grant clemency to offenders. It's also the first serious offender pardon in Idaho since 2000, when Dirk Kempthorne was governor. He also pardoned a drug dealer.
Otter acted on the unanimous recommendation of the Idaho Commission for Pardons and Parole. Despite the severity of their crimes, the Republican governor said both men had never been arrested before their offenses, have since admitted to their guilt, and have shown they're rehabilitated from their past behavior. Drug dealing, along with murder and rape, are among seven offenses in Idaho that require the governor to approve a pardon.
Thornton, 57, was convicted in 1992 of selling cocaine to undercover narcotics detectives in Ada County, while Hinckley, 37, was convicted after being charged in 2002 with selling methamphetamine to a confidential informant in Idaho Falls. Both men served prison time, underwent substance abuse treatment and counseling, and completed their paroles.
We send people "to prison to be rehabilitated and — we hope — to be redeemed as citizens, neighbors, fathers, husbands and taxpayers," Otter said in a statement. "Too often it doesn't work out that way. But for Robert Thornton and Eric Hinckley, it did. I'm proud of them."
Thornton sought his pardon based on a clean track record since his 1992 offense, which he told the pardon commission was his "single biggest mistake." In his pardon explanation letter, Otter said Thornton's 17 years of marriage, involvement with his children, and steady job as a construction superintendent convinced him that Thornton has learned from his mistakes.
Hinckley, with whom Otter had a face-to-face chat before Monday's announcement, has committed to a drug-free life and plans to enroll in Idaho State University's physician's assistant program.
Since 2004, he earned a bachelor's degree in health science from Boise State University and worked for nine years at Dale's Auto Sales in Boise.
Lisa Bostaph, a parole board commissioner and Boise State University criminal justice professor, said the commission more frequently grants pardons to offenders with lesser crimes like burglary, which don't need the governor's approval. The commission rarely hears pardons for serious offenses, like drug trafficking or murder.
In Thornton's and Hinckley's cases, she said, they've both become productive members of society and have used their experiences to teach their children.
"They both have made 180 degree turns in their lives and had maintained that change in their life for quite a while," she said.