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Wetzel appointed to Board of Pardons

June 28, 2007|By DON AINES

HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Pennsylvania State Senate Wednesday unanimously confirmed Franklin County Jail Warden John E. Wetzel's appointment to the state Board of Pardons.

Wetzel, 38, was named to serve as the corrections expert on the five-member board, which meets nine times per year to review applications for pardons and commutations and make recommendations to the governor.

"I have enormous confidence in John's expertise and experience in corrections," said Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, who serves on the board.

Other board members include the state attorney general; a physician, psychiatrist or psychologist; and a victim representative.

"I'm just so honored to be offered the position ... It's still kind of surreal," said Wetzel, who was hired as the warden in 2002. Wetzel said his hearing for the 14-member Senate Judiciary Committee was Tuesday.

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"There's two classes of cases the board handles. One is pardons," Wetzel said. "These people are not incarcerated. They're out in the community. They've served their time and they're looking to get their criminal record expunged."

About a quarter of those cases involve summary convictions for offenses such as retail theft, Wetzel said.

John Heaton, the board's secretary, said the most common requests for clemency are for employment reasons, people wanting something removed from their record so that they can get a job. The second most common is people wanting to restore their right to own and possess firearms, something many people lost retroactive to more stringent federal gun laws being passed.

Wetzel said the other class is commutations, in which people seek to have prison sentences cut short. The Board of Pardons conducts a merit review on those cases and determines if the person rates a hearing before the board, which is held in the courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The board can recommend clemency, but it is granted by the governor, Wetzel said.

In 2005, the board recommended 140 pardons to Gov. Ed Rendell, who granted 124, according to board figures.

Wetzel's first meeting with the board will be in September. The position pays $13,587 per year, Heaton said.

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