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Vote raises guard's hope for pardon

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 11. 2013 10:26PM


A Cheshire County corrections officer with a felony burglary conviction in his past is encouraged that the Executive Council voted unanimously Wednesday to grant a pardon hearing.

"I'm staying positive about it," said Thomas Schoolcraft, 27, of Keene on Thursday. "I think it's a good thing that they voted unanimously to grant the hearing, but I did notice they made those comments about pardons being only for people where there was a miscarriage of justice."

Schoolcraft has never claimed that his 2004 conviction in connection with a string of burglaries in coastal New Hampshire and Massachusetts was a miscarriage of justice. He served eight months in the Rockingham County House of Corrections in Brentwood, and was later extradited to Massachusetts. A Bay State judge ruled against further jail time in Massachusetts, and sent him back to New Hampshire to complete parole for both states.

For the past two years, he has worked as a corrections officer and received glowing reviews from the superintendent of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections and from the county commissioners, all of whom have lobbied since last summer for a pardon so Schoolcraft can pursue a career in law enforcement.

"I think the sense from all involved and from the information I've read is that he has really turned his life around, which is very admirable," said Councilor Colin Van Ostern, D-Concord, at the council meeting Wednesday in Peterborough. "I think we should respect the wishes of the local officials (for a pardon hearing), particularly because the prosecuting attorney has not objected."

Schoolcraft, who was in the audience at the time, was encouraged by those observations, until Van Ostern continued.

"I do want to note that personally I think the requirement for me to support a pardon would be that there was a miscarriage of justice, not simply that the offender has turned his life around or rehabilitated his life, so I want to be cautious about setting expectations for Mr. Schoolcraft that a pardon hearing is not, in fact, a pardon."

Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, said the disposition of Schoolcraft's pardon request in Massachusetts could also play into the decision.

Any linkage of a New Hampshire pardon to the outcomes in Massachusetts does not bode well for Schoolcraft, who said Massachusetts appears to have denied his request, at least for now.

"The Massachusetts governor has my pardon application," he said, "but the state parole board has recommended against it. It seems as though it's dead unless New Hampshire acts. I'm hoping to get the pardon in New Hampshire and then reapply for it next year in Massachusetts."

As a result of the Schoolcraft case, the N.H. County Corrections Association is considering a rewrite of its policies to prohibit the hiring of any convicted felon. Leading the charge for a change in regulations is David Dionne, superintendent of Hillsborough County Department of Corrections in Manchester.

Dionne voted with other county jail superintendents in favor of Schoolcraft's certification in June of last year, unaware of his felony conviction. After he learned about Schoolcraft's past in a New Hampshire Union Leader article, Dionne said he felt deceived by Cheshire County Department of Corrections Superintendent Richard Van Wickler, who presented the application.

"I have nothing against Mr. Schoolcraft," Dionne said on Thursday. "All the luck to him."

Schoolcraft says such a change would be shortsighted, even though his position in Cheshire County would be grandfathered.

"The American Correctional Association states in its policy and procedures manual that the hiring of ex-offenders can be a valuable asset to an agency, and should not be discriminated against," he said. "To see the ACA essentially back up Mr. Van Wickler's actions, I think, shows that Cheshire County has moved above and beyond where most jails are today, so I would hope that neighboring counties could see the positive side of what he did and the risks he took."

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