Emotional pardons hearing sparks calls for change

Amy Fredrickson testifies at the Minnesota Board of Pardons
Amy Fredrickson testifies on Tuesday in front of the Minnesota Board of Pardons against a pardon for the man convicted of assaulting her.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Unlike most of the people who appeared before a powerful panel comprised of the governor, attorney general and Supreme Court chief justice, Amy Fredrickson wasn't asking for a pardon. She was there to stop one.

Fredrickson drove from her home in Pelican Rapids to St. Paul to keep the perpetrator of her 1990 assault from getting a clean slate. She was a minor when her then-uncle Thomas Ondov raped her. He pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual assault.

"I don't think it's fair that I have to relive this," Fredrickson said. "I can't erase it. And I don't think it should be erased for the person that is responsible for causing me so much harm and pain."

Fredrickson said the pardons process brought her trauma back to the fore.

"There is no pardon for me," she said. "That can never be erased."

Gov. Tim Walz told Fredrickson her message was heard.

"I wish I could grant you a pardon from what happened on that day. I cannot," Walz said. "What I can tell you is, I am not in favor today of granting Mr. Ondov pardon."

Ondov told the board that he's changed his life since his conviction and subsequent time in treatment.

"I'm hoping my victim will know that I have lived my life in full understanding of the harm I caused her," Ondov said.

Friends testified to his character, and Ondov said he should be afforded the chance to prove himself redeemed and move on.

"Because I no longer want to be a 'sex offender,'" he said, adding that his felony conviction has limited his employment options.

Fredrickson left the hearing relieved.

Ondov was overcome with emotion and collapsed in the hallway. An ambulance was called, but he eventually left with the help of relatives and friends. He didn't comment on the decision.

Fredrickson told reporters that people who commit serious sex crimes should never be eligible for a pardon.

"Victims should never have to go through this. It's absurd," she said. "And I wouldn't want that to happen to anybody else."

AG Keith Ellison (left), Gov. Tim Walz and Chief Justice Lorie Gildea.
Attorney General Keith Ellison (left), Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Chief Justice Lorie Gildea meet as the Board of Pardons on Tuesday.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Walz said he's sympathetic to her pain and would support legislative changes to the pardons process so it is more sensitive to victims. But he stopped short of saying the avenue should be closed off.

"I think it has to be based on the merit. I think if you do believe in the grace of second chances. You have to be open to the possibility that everyone is redeemable," Walz said. "And I think we have to have a process that allows that opportunity. It may not happen."

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea said she wouldn't want to alter the pardon process in a way that crime victims aren't notified or invited to weigh in.

"How we receive that input, of course, we can certainly work on to try to make it less difficult and less traumatic to those who have been through those circumstances," Gildea said. "But it is very important."

DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison agreed.

"Whatever reforms that we have, I would like to be able to make sure that there is no pressure on a victim, but they do have the prerogative to enter their views."

The board denied most of the day's pardon requests — 11 of 16 were turned back — although there were some close calls.

A pardon requires a unanimous vote. The board split more than once, including on the case of Timothy Morin, who was convicted in 2006 of an aggravated robbery crime.

He was 18 at the time of the offense and was part of a rumble in a suburban park involving other teenagers, including one of whom died during the encounter.

Morin said the 17-year-old victim, Shawn Ferber, is always on his mind.

"I know I'll never make up from what I've taken from the Ferber family. I think about them often in my daily actions. I thought of Shawn when my son took his first steps, and how he'll never have that opportunity."

Ferber's parents backed his bid for a pardon, saying he paid a hefty price for his crime. Susan Ferber says she has forgiven Morin.

"Shawn was like Tim. He was a blubbering kid, would throw his arms around anybody and tell them how much he loved them," Susan Ferber said. "And I just have to believe that he would want forgiveness."

Ellison was on board. But Chief Justice Gildea said erasing the crime would erase a life. She opposed it, and Morin left without a pardon.

Correction: (June 25, 2019): A photo caption previous misstated the verdict in the case against Thomas Ondov. The wording has been corrected.