Gov. Paterson commuted John White’s prison sentence, now he must pardon John O’Hara
New York Daily News
December 28, 2010
Gov. Paterson's commutation of the prison sentence of John White was a difficult decision, a gut-wrenching end to a heart-wrenching case that left a Long Island teen dead and two families shattered.
In his last days in office, Paterson should use his pardon power in a very different, very easy case: the unjust felony conviction of John O'Hara, who committed the crime of bucking the Brooklyn Democratic machine by voting.
First, the tough call - which stems from an August 2006 shooting. White's teenage son Aaron, who is black, left a party after an argument. Five white teens, including a drunken Daniel Cicciaro, showed up outside the White home spouting threats. John White, fearing a lynch mob, went to confront the group with a pistol. It went off - accidentally, White says - killing Cicciaro.
White was indicted and tried amid racial animosity in all directions. Convicted of manslaughter, he was sent to state prison for up to four years.
Paterson ended the horrible matter by releasing White last week, less than a year into his sentence. It was not a pardon, as the conviction remains on the books and on White's record.
But, racially fraught close call though it was, the commutation was morally correct.
The O'Hara case has no such complications. It is as clear-cut as they come - a simple matter of undoing a foolish court ruling that made a man a criminal and destroyed his livelihood because he dared to vote.
Long an opponent of the Brooklyn machine and District Attorney Joe Hynes, O'Hara was arrested and charged with voting from the wrong address - not a sham address, but from his girlfriend's. After three trials, in 1999 he became the first person convicted in New York for voting since suffragist Susan B. Anthony in 1873.
In 2001, the state's Court of Appeals absurdly upheld the conviction; O'Hara, forever branded a felon, lost his law license, paid a $20,000 fine, did 1,500 hours of community service and served five years of probation.
Last year, a state appellate court restored his law license. Lawyers who studied his case for the court found "grave doubts that Mr. O'Hara did anything that justified his criminal prosecution." They stated: "Mr. O'Hara, accurately, it appears, claims that the machine went gunning for him."
Exactly right. Now, Gov. Paterson, clear his name - and expunge the noxious precedent of letting a district attorney convict a man of voting.
Pardon John O'Hara.