Pardon comes, finally, after six years

Published March 26 2012
Updated March 27 2012

As a young man living in St. Petersburg three decades ago, Larry Wood made a couple of bad mistakes.

He has spent the past six years trying to clear his name. Last week, it took less than five minutes for Gov. Rick Scott and three other senior state officials to forgive him.

While working construction in Florida in 1984, Wood was caught driving after his license in Michigan had been suspended for not paying $150 in overdue tickets. He was 23 at the time.

A year later, Wood and his then-wife got into a verbal fight that escalated into pushing and shoving at her parents' mobile home where they were living. It ended with him being arrested for battery.

Both cases were misdemeanors. But Wood had a criminal record that has stalked him every day of his life until last Thursday, when he was in Tallahassee to plead for mercy and ask for a pardon. Wood stood before Scott and Cabinet members, meeting as the Board of Executive Clemency (Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam).

"I take responsibility for these two crimes and express my apology to my ex-wife Ginger, to each of you and to the state of Florida," Wood said.

His new wife, Kristi, stood at his right, and his lawyer, Reginald Garcia, stood at his left.

The board unanimously granted Wood a full pardon, even though the staff of the Florida Parole Commission recommended his request be denied.

The state's investigation of Wood turned up a 1990 DUI in Michigan. There was no accident and no one was hurt. Wood also got a citation in Michigan for driving a snowmobile without a registration tag.

"I commend you for turning your life around," Bondi told him.

Wood has been a stonemason for 30 years, so he knows how to be patient and work toward the desired result.

In any clemency case, the governor must be on the prevailing side. Scott, the decisionmaker, took the measure of Wood, listened to his testimony and approved a pardon.

Wood wanted it mainly so he can get a permit to own a gun so he can go hunting with his brothers and sons in Michigan, where he has lived for years. Under federal law, a person with a domestic violence conviction cannot own a gun.

A grateful Wood had only one complaint afterward: "I think it took too long."

Wood's case is instructive because of his persistence in the face of the glacier-like pace with which Florida handles clemency cases.

The chronically short-staffed Parole Commission is straining under a backlog of 31,000 cases. About two-thirds of them are ex-felons seeking to have their civil rights restored so they can vote; the rest are in other categories, like Wood's.

The Legislature in the recently ended session gave the Parole Commission an additional $350,000 so the agency can hire more people to reduce the backlog.

To celebrate, Larry and Kristi Wood planned to take a kayak trip down the Wakulla River, south of Tallahassee.

Wood was also wise to spend the money to fly to Florida and plead his case in person. Scott often denies clemency petitions by people who skip their hearings.

"Do these applicants realize how much better it is to be here?" Scott asked.