Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb granted a pardon last Friday for the wrongful conviction of Keith Cooper, who was convicted for a near-fatal shooting and robbery. The Chicago Tribune reports the case as the first time in Indiana history a governor has pardoned a convicted criminal based on perceived innocence.
Cooper, a 49-year-old grandfather, began serving his sentence in 1996.
In 2014, long after DNA evidence identifying the shooter as another man was presented, the victims of the crime recanted and pleaded on Cooper’s behalf, resulting in the Indiana Parole Board issuing unanimous recommendation of a pardon, according to the Tribune.
His first day as a freed man was last Thursday.
While Gov. Holcomb was swift in pardoning Cooper, a promise he had made on the 2016 campaign trail, his actions diverged from former governor and current Vice President Mike Pence, who escaped this responsibility for ensuring Cooper’s pardon after exonerating evidence and recanted statements were presented in court.
In spite of Cooper’s seemingly obvious innocence, Pence chose not to pardon Cooper during his time as Indiana governor.
Having already had more than two years’ time to consider a pardon, the Pence administration told Cooper during the governor’s vice presidential campaign to “pursue all possible judicial options” before the governor would consider a pardon, according to the Tribune.
In a video for the Indianapolis Star, Cooper expressed to reporter Dwight Adams his gratitude for Gov. Holcomb and his disdain for former Gov. Pence.
“Had I not been incarcerated, who knows where I would’ve been in life,” he said.
The pardon marks the end of Holcomb’s first month in office. In a statement Thursday, he reaffirmed Cooper’s worthiness of release from his wrongful case.
“Keith Cooper has waited long enough and is deserving of a pardon,” he said.
While Holcomb’s decision is honorable, it came too late. Cooper’s life will never be the same.
The choices and circumstances presented to both governors in pardoning Cooper were different. Holcomb faced less pressure as a new governor whose administration was not responsible for the stagnation of the pardon. He hadn’t presented more than two years of apathy on the case as Pence did and likely wanted to start his term off on the right foot.
Plus, Pence had a supposed reputation for being “tough on law” and, upon pardoning Cooper, would likely have had to address the issue of mass incarceration which he would rather stay silent on.
Nevertheless, it is Pence’s fault for not pardoning Cooper sooner.
His choice to not prioritize Cooper’s livelihood as soon as possible underscores the quality of government he ran during his time serving in Indiana.