TALLAHASSEE — A tearful Thomas Lee Morgan pleaded with Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet on Thursday to grant him a pardon from a two-decade-old sexual battery conviction so he can remove his name from the state's sex offender registry and live a more normal life.
Morgan, 52, was sentenced to 10 years of probation in 1992 for sexual battery against his former wife. She offered no opinion when asked if she supported his petition for clemency.
With an election six weeks away, the four officials sitting as the Board of Clemency did not act on Morgan's request. But they agreed at their next meeting in December to consider new rules to make it simpler for ex-offenders filing such requests.
Morgan said he remains an outcast because his name and face are on the state sex offender database, used to alert people if an offender lives nearby.
Morgan's minister, fiance, friends, business associates and even a former four-term sheriff in Sarasota County said Morgan has been a model citizen since the Palm Beach County crime.
"He's a changed man," said former Sheriff Geoffrey Monge, who lives near Morgan's home in rural Monticello, east of Tallahassee.
Morgan credits "the power of God" for turning his life around. He helped start an Alcoholics Anonymous group and works as a craftsman in Monticello.
His fiance, Sharon Lovette, said her family has disowned her for becoming involved with Morgan and described losing her job at a Tallahassee department store where co-workers circulated flyers showing Morgan's sex offender status.
Morgan choked back tears as he faced the clemency board.
"I don't believe you'll ever have any more trouble with me breaking the laws of Florida, because I truly believe that if I never break the laws of God, the laws of Florida will never come into play," Morgan testified.
The case has obvious political overtones. Two clemency board members, Crist and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, are in competitive races for the U.S. Senate and governor, respectively.
Granting a full pardon to a registered sex offender so close to an election could invite explosive charges from political opponents, but Crist said that did not affect his judgment.
"No, it doesn't, nor should it," Crist said.
Crist said he did not know how he'd vote on Morgan's request. "It's a difficult case," he said.
Sink suggested the board consider a range of recommendations, including asking the Legislature to change the law to deal with such cases.
Only Attorney General Bill McCollum, who recently lost a bid for the Republican nomination for governor, advocated removing Morgan's name from the offender list.
Morgan is the nephew of the late Herb Morgan, a respected former Democratic state representative from Tallahassee, whose name surfaced several times at Thursday's hearing.
"My uncle told me to stay the course, no matter what," Thomas Morgan testified.
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.