Fifty Christmas Eves ago, a young sailor was court-martialed and demoted for taking 4 pounds of butter from his Navy base. With a stroke of his pen, President Clinton erased what Raymond Phillip Weaver called the “biggest failure of my life.”
Now 74 and retired in St. Petersburg, Fla., Weaver was one of 21 Americans to receive Christmas week pardons for federal offenses that ranged from bank robbery, Medicaid fraud and cocaine dealing to operation of a bootleg still and theft of spark plugs.
For Weaver, Clinton’s signature Tuesday night on a single sheet of paper entitled “Executive Grant of Clemency” erased the lone blemish in a Navy career that spanned nearly 23 years.
There were no press releases, no fanfare. In fact, the decision came so late that Justice Department officials hadn’t even had time to contact those granted clemency since Clinton signed away their sins. All the offenders had been convicted a decade or more ago.
“The pardon is the biggest thing in my life, especially because I didn’t think I had chance this Christmas with President Clinton busy visiting our troops in Bosnia,” Weaver said Wednesday after learning of his pardon from The Associated Press.
Weaver pleaded guilty Dec. 24, 1947, to the theft of four pounds of butter from his Navy base at Lakehurst, N.J.. He was court-martialed, given seven days leave and reduced from Chief Radioman to a Radioman first class.
Weaver said the chief cook at his base twice gave him two pounds of butter from supplies, and he brought them home to his new wife.
He served 16 more years in the Navy and three of his sons followed him into military service. The father of five and grandfather of 11 applied for the pardon more than a year ago.
“I’ve been praying,” he said of his plea for a pardon. “We go to church all the time.”
Like Weaver, most of the others pardoned by Clinton were average Americans unaccustomed to the limelight, but with their own tales of seeking redemption.
Ralph Lee Limbaugh, 66, of Sterrett, Ala., a self-described lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, sought a pardon for years. He was convicted in 1974 of theft from interstate shipment and, as a convicted felon, was no longer allowed to carry a gun.
“I stole a case of spark plugs,” he explained. “If I were a violent man, I could see them keeping me from owning firearms. I feel more like a 100 percent citizen now. Before I only felt like a partial citizen.”
George Maynes, of El Paso, Texas, had been convicted of distributing cocaine in 1975. He served six months in jail and three years of probation.
Now he balances training for a new career in radiology, with raising his two boys - “I’m a home father” - and being a block captain for his neighborhood crime watch program.
“I’m in the (Boy) Scouts and a soccer coach. It was critical for me, at least in my own mind, to have acknowledged that I can still be a role model. This was the most important thing,” Maynes said.
Others receiving pardons ranged from Charles Patrick Murrin of Riverside, Calif., for an October 1988 bank robbery and Billy K. Berry of Dardenelle, Ark., for Medicaid and mail fraud in February 1986, to liquor runners - Charley Morgan of Tulsa, Okla., convicted in September 1964 of unlawful possession of a still and manufacture of mash, and Glen Edison Chapman of Connelly Springs, N.C., for removing, possessing and concealing non-tax-paid whiskey, in September 1957.