TALLAHASSEE — James Turner received something Thursday no one else has from Gov. Rick Scott: a full pardon.
Turner, a 48-year-old electrician from Citrus County, became the first ex-felon to receive a full pardon under Scott's administration.
Scott has taken a hard line in restoring rights to ex-cons and couldn't explain why he gave Turner a break.
"I'd have to go back and look at it," Scott said after the Clemency Board meeting Thursday. "I mean, we did 100 cases."
Reminded that Turner's wife pleaded for forgiveness for her husband and burst into tears when Scott approved their request, he said, "I remember. There were quite a few people crying."
But no one else received a full pardon, which restores all the rights of citizenship, including the right to vote and carry firearms. Few received a partial one.
Scott and the three Cabinet members that make up the Clemency Board have a backlog of more than 95,000 cases. The board voted in March to erase a policy from former Gov. Charlie Crist that would have streamlined the process for thousands of those nonviolent offenders and instead implemented a longer waiting period for applicants.
They have reviewed 153 requests so far this year, including one Thursday, coincidentally, from a man named Richard Scott.
Richard Scott's request, like nearly all the others, was denied.
The board's staff has recommended some forgiveness for about one-third of the requests this year. But, in addition to Turner, Scott and the board have given just two partial pardons and restored some rights to 10 more.
On Thursday, Scott quizzed applicants about the last time they did drugs and scolded others for continuing to drink. He asked one woman about being kidnapped when she was a child, but dropped it when she started crying.
"Every case is a little bit different," Scott said. "It's not like it's one thing you look at. You're just trying to make the best decision you can about what's fair to the citizens of the state and also treat the individual with respect."
Other board members get to vote, but Scott must be on the prevailing side. That means if Scott says no, the request is denied.
In the moment, Scott can be swayed by his fellow board members.
Scott was ready to restore the civil rights for Nancy Parisi on Thursday, but reversed his decision after Attorney General Pam Bondi objected. Scott said no to Pamela Maria Dill, but postponed a decision after a point from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Scott said he reviews each case before the meeting, but ends up making a gut call in the end.
"Golly, you empathize with both the victims and the individuals asking for clemency from the standpoint of trying to understand and make a good decision," Scott said.
The Turners, however, didn't care about the reason why.
"We needed some good news this year," said James Turner's wife, Mary, who lost her father, had a heart attack and watched one of her children receive pacemakers in the past six months.
James Turner was arrested 13 times in a four-year span for drunk driving, disorderly conduct and, ultimately, felony cocaine charges.
But he had a clean record since 1990 and the board's staff recommended Turner be given a pardon.
"It is draining," Scott said. "Clemency is draining."
Michael C. Bender can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelCBender.