Ritter pardons 20, including anti-gang activist
DENVER (AP) – Denver anti-gang activist Leon Kelly is among 20 people receiving pardons from Gov. Bill Ritter, who leaves office Jan. 11 after one term.
Ritter, a former Denver district attorney, announced the pardons Wednesday. Until now, Ritter had only pardoned three people during his four years in office.
Ritter’s predecessor, Gov. Bill Owens, pardoned 13 people during his eight-year tenure.
Ritter said the latest people to receive pardons have demonstrated great remorse, have made an effort at redeeming themselves and in some cases, are significantly involved in their community.
He pardoned five women and 15 men for felony and misdemeanor offenses dating from 1971 to 1999. The offenses range from marijuana possession to robbery. A pardon restores all rights of citizenship, including the ability to vote, participate in jury duty, hold public office and own guns.
Kelly, executive director of Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives, was pardoned for a 1979 conviction for aggravated robbery for which he served three years in prison.
“It’s done,” Kelly said in an interview, fighting back tears as he talked about visiting his father’s grave to commemorate the occasion. “This is the day I received the pardon from the governor.”
Kelly’s father died in March.
For nearly three decades, he has worked with at-risk Denver youth to help steer them away from gangs and live productive lives. His personal story of how he began dealing drugs after graduating from the University of Colorado and then getting arrested for a home invasion to collect a drug debt plays a large role in his work.
Kelly has recently begun working on a program to help felons find work after being released from prison.
“I didn’t read about this in a book, I didn’t hear about this in a story,” Kelly said. “I know what it is when I was locked up. The life that goes on behind bars, I’ve seen it.”
The conviction weighed heavily on Kelly, though he said he tried not to think about it. He said his time in prison helped him reflect on his life and prompted him to turn his life around and help others.
“I don’t feel like I’m that unique,” Kelly said. “If you have a felony, it shouldn’t even matter, if you have a right mind to do what you have to do to live a productive life.”
Community leaders and prosecutors, including Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, wrote letters in support of Kelly’s pardon.
“Leon is an example of somebody who has turned his life around,” said Morrissey, who has gotten to know Kelly and his family. “My only disappointment is that his father died before he received this pardon.”
In announcing the pardons, Ritter said he carefully reviewed each case and its unique set of circumstances.
“Today’s pardon will allow them to move forward as a productive member of the work force, of their community and of society,” he said.
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