California governor grants 72 pardons, commutes sentences

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown announced Saturday that he has pardoned 72 ex-convicts, continuing his tradition of timing his decisions around major Christian holidays including Easter.

Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, limited most of his pardons to people who were convicted of drug offenses and other lower-level crimes and who have already completed their sentences. He also issued seven commutations.

Those pardoned included three men who served in the U.S. military but were deported to Mexico after completing sentences for various crimes and a teenage mother who killed her newborn child after giving birth in a bathtub.

One of the men, Hector Barajas Varela, was expelled from the country after serving more than one year in prison for shooting at an occupied home or vehicle. He founded the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, Mexico, to help deportees adjusting to life there and has advocated to allow deported veterans to return to the United States.

"I'm very humbled," Barajas said in a video he posted on his Facebook page. "There are days when I feel like giving up, but it's because of things like these ... that I still believe, that I still have faith that eventually we will go home."

None of the decisions were as notable as his pardon of Robert Downey Jr. in December 2015 for a 1996 drug conviction that sent the actor to prison for nearly a year. Downey was imprisoned for violating his probation after he was convicted of felony drug possession in Los Angeles County. His life and career have since rebounded.

Such pardons don't erase the convictions. But state and federal law enforcement agencies are informed, and pardons become public records.

California's longest-serving governor has now issued 1,330 pardons, including 404 during his first two terms as governor from 1975 to 1983.

Pardons were rare for his three immediate predecessors.

Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger gave out 15, Democrat Gray Davis granted none, and Republican Pete Wilson granted 13.

Brown's office says earlier Republican governors were more generous, with Ronald Reagan granting nearly 600 and George Deukmejian more than 300.

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