BOSTON (SHNS) – Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday recommended pardons for four men convicted decades ago of crimes ranging from property destruction to assault and battery, pointing to their subsequent rehabilitation and calling them “worthy candidates” to wipe the slate clean.
The governor moved to pardon the following:
- Kenneth Dunn, who was convicted in 1971 of larceny from a building.
- Steven Joanis, convicted in 1990 of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon and armed assault in a dwelling.
- Stephen Polignone, convicted in 1980 of larceny and altering a motor vehicle license/registration.
- Michael Picanso, convicted in 1986 of trespass, larceny, and wanton destruction of property.
“All of these individuals have shown a commitment to their communities and rehabilitation since their convictions,” Baker wrote in a statement. “However, the charges are related to decades-old convictions that continue to have an impact on their lives.”
These are the first pardons Baker has sought during his nearly eight years in the corner office, and they come as he winds down his final term. Baker is not seeking reelection next month.
“The Governor views the granting of a pardon as an extraordinary remedy, which has the effect of treating the petitioner as if the offense had never been committed,” according to clemency guidelines released by the Baker administration in 2020.
Clemency petitions are first vetted by the Parole Board before a recommendation is made to the governor, whose endorsement of the petition forwards it to the Governor’s Council for final review. Applicants “must have demonstrated ‘good citizenship,’ as well as a specific, verified, and compelling need for a pardon,” according to the board.
The administration’s guidelines also specify that the review process for pardons is not a referendum on the original trial or any subsequent appeals nor on “the guilt of the petitioner.”
“It is mainly intended to remove the barriers that are sometimes associated with a criminal record, thereby facilitating the reintegration of the petitioner into his or her community,” the guidelines say.
Wednesday’s announcement came in the midst of a Governor’s Council hearing on whether to grant a judgeship to current Parole Board Chairwoman Gloriann Moroney, who told councilors she was faced with a backlog of clemency petitions when she took the chairship in 2019.
Moroney said the board reviewed more than 300 petitions to decide which ones merited a hearing. That also included petitions for sentence commutations, two of which were recommended to Baker, earned the governor’s support and were ultimately approved by the council earlier this year.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who announced the pardons while chairing a Governor’s Council assembly, told councilors they could decide how they wanted to facilitate public hearings on the four cases.
Councilor Eileen Duff suggested the council follow the same procedure from eight years ago, when it last handled pardon requests from outgoing Gov. Deval Patrick.
Under that model, each hearing would be under the direction of the councilor in whose district the pardon applicant resides. Councilor Terry Kennedy volunteered “the dean” — the longest-serving councilor, Christopher Iannella Jr. — to handle the process for one of the applicants who lives in New Hampshire.
Veteran Sportsman Wants To Hunt, Target-Shoot
Kenneth Dunn was arrested in August 1971 for larceny from a building, though during his interview with the Parole Board he denied taking anything from the place.
By Dunn’s telling, he had met some friends at a water pump house at Crystal Lake in Chelmsford. Others had already broken into the pump house, he told the board, and snatched helmets and pads that they were using to play football.
“I appeared in court without an attorney and agreed to plead guilty with one year probation to get the case resolved,” he told the board.
Dunn applied for a pardon back in 2014 “so that he may obtain a license to possess a firearm and participate in hunting and other recreational activities.”
He held a firearm license for decades, first in Massachusetts and then in New Hampshire, and it was issued even after he disclosed his criminal history, according to the board. The Nashua, N.H. police department ordered him to give up the license in 2013 because of his conviction.
“I have been unable to participate in hunting or enjoy my membership at the Ammonoosuc Gun Club in Lincoln, New Hampshire, where I have been a member for seven (7) years,” Dunn told the panel, detailing past memberships in organizations such as the Tyngsboro Sportsmen’s Club and Westford Sportsmen’s Club.
The Tyngsboro native is a U.S. Navy veteran and worked as a truck driver for Lowell-based Trans Gas and other companies. He retired since the time he applied for a pardon and has subsequently worked part-time for UPS.
He chalked up some other arrests on his record to his deceased twin brother, Donald Dunn, who he said had a substance use disorder and often misidentified himself as Kenneth Dunn when he was arrested.
Dove Into Charity Work; Worried About CORI Checks
Steven Joanis wants a pardon because he is seeing more criminal background checks pop up associated with work and volunteer activities, and he said he is worried about “exposing my label.”
The April 1990 incident in question — when Joanis was arrested by Milford police for assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon and armed assault in a dwelling — came after “his girlfriend came home and informed him that she had been raped and kidnapped,” according to a Parole Board summary of Joanis’ interview.
The girlfriend “had been allegedly held for several days,” the board’s report said, and Joanis “learned that the assailant had begun trying to contact her again.”
“A girl I was dating was tormented by a rapist,” Joanis told the board. “I tried to scare him into leaving her alone by playing tough guy. He wasn’t scared of me or my unloaded weapon. He held me at gunpoint until the police arrived and arrested me.”
The .22 caliber rifle Joanis borrowed from a friend was unloaded, he said, when he showed up at the man’s apartment with the goal of intimidating him. A single bullet was in Joanis’ pocket.
At the age of 17, he was sentenced to six months in a house of correction but served a suspended sentence of one year’s probation.
He met his wife around a year later, and they have been married for nearly three decades. In the following years, Joanis has become an active volunteer with a nursing home, his Catholic parish, the Knights of Columbus, My Brother’s Keeper, and the Bellingham Historical Commission. He also lets the Franciscan Handmaids of the Immaculate “occupy one of his properties rent-free.”
Joanis tried to enlist in the U.S. Air Force but was turned away because of his record. These days, he flies disaster response search-and-rescue missions with the Air Force’s volunteer auxiliary, the Civil Air Patrol.
He was a foster child and had the opportunity in 2019 to foster the grandchild of a fellow parishioner at his church, but an application was denied because of his record.
Joanis said he sees potential for the conviction to “damage new chapters of my life” as his children grow and he potentially looks at employment options in the future. Missed opportunities include coaching youth sports, chaperoning school events, and working at locations where a CORI check would come into play. (He is an engineer for a large-scale HVAC contractor.)
He’s also “avoided running for political office, despite an interest in doing so,” the board wrote.
Stole A Spare Tire, Needs Security Clearance
Michael Picanso, too, is concerned about the effect a conviction has on his professional life.
It’s been 36 years since his car got a flat tire in the Salisbury area and a companion, whom he met that night, broke a window at a car dealership so they could steal a spare.
At the age of 21, Picanso pleaded guilty to trespass, larceny, and wanton destruction of property. He served a year of probation and paid a $100 fine plus restitution.
“He reported that since that time he has become an exemplary citizen,” the board wrote.
An electro-mechanical technician at an aerospace company, Picanso “is not able to obtain the high-level security clearance that is necessary to advance,” the board wrote, adding that a pardon “would offer him significant opportunity for professional advancement, as well as a larger salary in his current company.”
He also wants his firearms identification card back. He had bonded with his son over target shooting and they both joined a gun club before Picanso’s FID renewal was denied by Westford police. The police chief said a pardon would open the door to reconsideration.
Picanso’s son, Michael Jr., testified to the Parole Board that his dad “often uses his own past mistakes, including the governing offense [the 1986 case], to teach his children that making the wrong decision could completely change their lives.”
Looking To Move Past Phony Checks, Get Back To Hunting
Stephen Polignone hopes to return to deer hunting and teach the skill to his son, he told the board, and also wants to “legally own a firearm for protection of life and property.”
He pleaded guilty and served a year’s probation for larceny and altering a motor vehicle license/registration, after cashing bad checks in 1979 “from an account that he had opened in a false name,” which he knew did not have sufficient funds. The license charge stemmed from a fake ID that he used to cash the checks.
Polignone was in his early 20s and “spending time around the ‘wrong people,'” the board said.
A longtime ironworker, Polignone is married to an insurance executive. They live in Georgetown, where they are involved in the PTA and he has served on the Conservation Commission.
He renewed his license to carry a firearm several times until he bought a rifle in Maine. An agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives subsequently told him to return the gun and that he could no longer hold his license because of the 1980 conviction.
Polignone and his wife are also interested in buying into a gated community in Florida, but Polignone heard that process involves a background check.
Friends and coworkers wrote to the board calling him “hardworking,” “reliable,” and “honorable.”