ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Sherman Townsend spent 10 years in prison for a crime another man has since confessed to committing and the burglary conviction will likely stay on his record after a state board wouldn’t issue a pardon Wednesday.
The Minnesota Board of Pardons denied Townsend’s request to have the crime removed, saying it couldn’t pardon him because the panel lacks the power to exonerate someone.
Townsend walked out of prison on Oct. 2, 2007, after another man confessed to breaking into a Minneapolis house in 1997 with the intention of raping a woman who was inside the home. But because Townsend struck a deal with Hennepin County to be released immediately, his record doesn’t reflect the innocence he has claimed since his arrest.
Townsend, now 63, said he was disappointed by the Board of Pardons’ decision, but not surprised. It likely means he’s out of options to clear his name.
“I think Sherman goes back to work and keeps doing all the good that he’s doing in his community,” said Julie Jonas, a managing attorney for the Innocence Project, which helped free Townsend from prison. “We know that Sherman’s innocent, his family knows that he’s innocent and his community knows that he’s innocent. It would have been nice to have the state acknowledge it.”
Townsend’s story won over Gov. Mark Dayton, who said: “If justice was miscarried, we should try to make it right.”
But unlike many other states where only the governor has pardon authority, all three members of Minnesota’s board have to agree for a petitioner’s crime to be expunged from his record. The board consists of the governor, attorney general and chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
Townsend was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1998. He maintained he was wrongfully arrested, but jurors were swayed in part by a long rap sheet of burglaries and testimony from a man who told police he saw Townsend running from the scene.
It wasn’t until that same man, David Jones, approached Townsend in a Moose Lake, Minn. prison and admitted to the crime that Townsend’s path to freedom started to open.
His attorneys are confident they would have won an appeal, but Townsend said he made the deal with the county to ensure he could spend time with his dying mother. She died two months after he was let out.
“He very well could have been in jail that whole time, waiting for a new trial,” Jonas with the Innocence Project said.
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