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Jail guard's pardon request moving through process

New Hampshire Sunday News

October 13. 2012 10:11PM

Thomas Schoolcraft is shown in his job as a corrections officer. (MEGHAN PIERCE)

Eight years ago, Thomas Schoolcraft of Keene was a high school dropout spending late nights burglarizing homes along the Seacoast in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Today, the county jail guard who is working on his master's degree in criminal justice has cleared at least one hurdle in obtaining the pardons he seeks from governors in both states for the crimes he committed at age 19.

After investigating Schoolcraft's life today at 27 and interviewing his victims, Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams, who prosecuted him, acknowledged Schoolcraft is not the same troubled young man he was then.

Reams stopped short of recommending Schoolcraft's pardon request in his report to Attorney General Michael Delaney, but did say he is not opposed to it.

'(Pardons) should be reserved for something that is extraordinary,' Reams said, 'and this is one of those petitions that rises to that level.'

'In this case, (Schoolcraft) didn't just talk about getting his life together. He actually has done it.'

Reams said he forwarded his report to Delaney on Aug. 14. When Delaney signs off on it, the Governor and Executive Council will decide whether to hold a full pardon hearing on Schoolcraft's petition.

'We talked to the victims. They were a touch apprehensive; however, none were strongly opposed,' Reams said.

As to the items stolen, 'they got most of it back. It was snatch-and-grab kinds of stuff,' Reams said.

Schoolcraft served eight months in Rockingham County House of Corrections in 2004 for the burglaries.

Schoolcraft hopes being pardoned for his crimes will open doors in the law enforcement community. He is halfway through his first semester at Boston University, where he is studying part-time to get his master's degree.

He was recently promoted to corporal at Cheshire County House of Corrections, where he has worked for a year and a half.

Schoolcraft prefers a pardon to annulment for his convictions because he doesn't want them to disappear from his criminal record.

'I'm not asking the public to forget about my crimes,' Schoolcraft said. 'I'm asking them to forgive me, let me move on and give back to the criminal justice system.'

Gov. John Lynch's spokesman, Colin Manning, said only one pardon request has been granted during Lynch's four terms, during which four hearings were held. Last year, Lynch pardoned Susan Winter for a felony escape that occurred 28 years earlier, Manning said.

Lynch also agreed to commute Ward Bird's sentence to time served, but refused to pardon the Moultonborough farmer, who was convicted of felony criminal threatening for waving a handgun at a trespasser.

'The governor believes pardons should be reserved for extraordinary circumstances or where there is a clear miscarriage of justice,' Manning said.

Gov. Deval Patrick has granted no pardons since he took office, according to Terrel Harris, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Parole Board.

'We received Mr. Schoolcraft's pardon application in July. A file has been created and will be reviewed at the board's next executive session. That session has not been scheduled,' Harris said.

Schoolcraft may be running out of time for Lynch and the sitting Executive Council to hear his pardon petition. Lynch and Executive Councilors Raymond Wieczorek and Dan St. Hilaire are not seeking reelection.

Schoolcraft's boss, jail Superintendent Richard Van Wickler, was teaching criminal justice courses at Plymouth State College when he first encountered Schoolcraft. Schoolcraft graduated with honors from the college with a degree in psychology.

It took a leap of faith to hire a convicted felon, Van Wickler said, but he hasn't regretted it.

'I promoted him because we have standards of conduct and professionalism for all our corrections officers. He met those and was rewarded accordingly,' Van Wickler said.

He believes Schoolcraft should be pardoned.

'If he doesn't get a pardon, the whole process should be thrown out,' Van Wickler said. 'If he doesn't get a pardon, nobody should.'

Schoolcraft has the full support of his fellow officers and the administration, Van Wickler said.

In Schoolcraft's letter to Lynch seeking a pardon, he took full responsibility for his crimes.

'People's homes were broken into, personal belongings were stolen and people in the community would not feel safe because of my actions,' Schoolcraft wrote.

Schoolcraft went on to say how he planned to change.

'My ultimate goal is to work towards lowering the recidivism rate by using my experiences to shape, encourage and inspire young people who are in the same situation I was in many years ago.'

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