Pardon denials range from murder to traffic tickets

Razor wire is wrapped near the top of twelve-foot fencing at the Lansing Correctional Facility East Unit. Last year, none of the 39 people seeking pardons from Gov. Sam Brownback received them, an open records request by the Journal-World has revealed.

Kansans who were denied pardons by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2011 ranged from murderers claiming innocence to traffic law violators claiming police misconduct, according to an open records request filed by the Lawrence Journal-World.

In all, 39 people were denied pardons by Brownback last year; no pardons were granted, according to letters from the governor’s office to pardon applicants. The Kansas Prison Review Board, which reviews pardons before sending them to the governor, denied a Journal-World open records request for the full pardon applications, citing an exemption in the Kansas Open Records Act.

One of the denied pardon applicants, Ronnie Rhodes, was convicted of a 1981 murder in Wichita. He claims he’s innocent. His case has been taken up by a variety of advocates, including a Washburn University School of Law class run by Kansas attorney Rebecca Woodman. Rhodes had exhausted his appeals, and possible DNA evidence from the crime couldn’t be located for testing.

Rhodes’ application was denied, but Woodman said attorneys have resubmitted a pardon application that includes the findings of an extensive investigation.

For Rhodes, a pardon, sometimes referred to as clemency, is likely the last option, and Woodman said she hopes the governor takes a serious look at Rhodes’ case.

“Clemency is intended to be the fail-safe in the criminal justice system,” Woodman said.

Rhodes is joined by nine others denied pardons who were convicted of murder or manslaughter charges, as well as 11 with sex offense convictions.

Then there’s Eddie Mendia, a 63-year-old Wichita man who for years has been fighting a 2008 right-of-way traffic ticket given in Wellsville. Mendia, who operates the Wichita-based nonprofit Homeless Search Corp., says he was pulled over not because of a traffic violation, but because of his Mexican heritage.

“My evidence didn’t matter at all,” Mendia said of his trial that resulted in a conviction.

The Kansas Constitution gives the governor sole authority to issue pardons, which do not erase a person’s conviction but free him or her from prison or parole obligations.

Pardons are uncommon in Kansas.

Former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius issued only one pardon during her six years as governor. Gov. Mark Parkinson, Sebelius’s successor, issued four, all related to decades-old cases.