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Florida officially forgives the late Doors singer Jim Morrison

TALLAHASSEE — Forty-one years ago, the state sent a message about community standards, charging rock icon Jim Morrison of the Doors with exposing himself during a 1969 Miami concert.

On Thursday, the state reconsidered and offered Morrison a pardon.

The posthumous pardon isn't going to settle the boundaries of artistic freedom or alter the Morrison myth in the annals of rock history. It's also unlikely to settle the ongoing debate about whether Morrison actually did pull his pants down at the concert that night.

But it does send a message about forgiveness, outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist said.

"In this case, guilt or innocence is in God's hands, not ours," Crist said, arguing for the pardon, which was granted unanimously by the four-member panel that also included Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson.

The Morrison case was tucked awkwardly in the clemency agenda between a parade of heartrending cases involving people seeking pardons or commuted prison terms.

Sink wiped away tears as a Florida State University student talked about visiting his mother in prison on weekends for the last 11 years. The daughter, in high school, pleaded to have her mother — convicted of vehicular manslaughter — released in time to see her go to her prom.

Others talked about youthful mistakes, or crimes committed in the throes of addiction, that were now keeping them from steady work. Those winning pardons or commuted sentences for relatives sobbed and hugged. One woman danced. Those whose pleas for mercy were rejected — there were many — left red-eyed and stony-faced.

Then came the Morrison case. No one from the public rose to speak on Morrison's behalf. Rather, Crist took the lead.

"Much controversy surrounds this conviction, and not only because many witnesses testified they did not see Mr. Morrison expose himself," Crist said, reading from a statement.

"Controversy also exists because Mr. Morrison was not arrested until four days after the concert," Crist said. "A case was brought against him only after newspaper articles recounted the alleged events at the concert, based on a complaint filed by an employee of the State Attorney's Office who attended the concert.''

Crist also noted that Morrison's attorneys were prevented from presenting evidence of "community standards" of other rock performances of the era. (They wanted the jury to watch the Woodstock movie, for instance.)

The jury convicted Morrison of indecent exposure and open profanity, though he was cleared of a felony count of lewd and lascivious behavior and public drunkenness. He was sentenced to six months in jail, but died two years later at age 27 in Paris while the case was under appeal.

"If his appeal had been heard, a reviewing court could have resolved the controversies surrounding his conviction," Crist said.

As important, Crist said, the pardon was an acknowledgement of Morrison's enduring body of work as an artist, and an effort to remove a "blot on his record for something he may or may not have done when he was essentially a kid."

Whether Morrison actually exposed himself has long been a matter of speculation and debate. Although more than 100 photos were placed into evidence at the trial, none showed Morrison exposed.

The clemency board did hear from one of the Miami police officers who testified at the trial that Morrison did, in fact, expose himself. The officer sent Crist an e-mail arguing that a pardon would lend credibility "to the destructive drug culture that is reeking havoc with our society and Mr. Morrison's misspent life."

The lone member of the public to speak at the clemency hearing was a former Miami police officer who said speculating that Morrison may not have exposed himself implied that police officers lied.

Angel Lago called Morrison an unrepentant "drug addict" and said the pardon sends the wrong message to our youth.

"What example are we giving our children?" he said. "Party hearty and die young?"

After the hearing, however, Doors fans who had pressed for a pardon for more than a decade hailed the board's decision.

"I'm ecstatic," said Kerry Humpherys, who helped lead an online petition drive for a Morrison pardon. "All this time and effort has finally paid off."

Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek also praised the decision. He has maintained for years that Morrison never exposed himself, that it was simply a "mass hallucination."

"It's about time that these trumped-up allegations were expunged from Jim Morrison's record," Manzarek said from his home in California.

"The message is art first, censorship second," he said. "The lovers and artists and poets win one more time."

For his part, Morrison, who had been a student at what was then St. Petersburg Junior College before transferring to Florida State University, admitted to some profanity, but insisted he never exposed himself.

In an interview after the trial, he admitted that was a tough sell. "People I know, friends of mine, they think it's really funny and they like to believe it's true. They accept it. And people that don't like me want to believe it because it's the incarnation of everything they consider evil. I get hung both ways."

Jim Morrison would have been 67 on Wednesday.

If Morrison flashed the crowd — if — 41 years later the establishment has officially forgiven him.

Florida officially forgives the late Doors singer Jim Morrison 12/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 10, 2010 7:40am]
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