Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Pardons for criminals common during Buchtel era

On Dec. 24, 1908, Gov. Henry Buchtel issued a “full, free and unconditional” pardon to Mile Mandarich, a man sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a saloon keeper.

Mandarich was released on Christmas Day to create “a wholesome effect upon the prisoners now in the penitentiary at Canon City.”

The tradition of holiday pardons was common when Buchtel was governor, though some were peculiar by today’s standards, as was the governor’s reviewing — and sometimes pardoning — sentences as short as 30 days in jail for drunkenness.

Petty cases never reach Colorado governors in the modern era, but in Buchtel’s day they did and Buchtel took them seriously. On his third day in office, in fact, Buchtel freed a man 36 days short of completing a 60-day sentence for petty larceny because the man’s family “needed him” and he had promised “to do what is right in the future.”

As head of the State Board of Pardons, Buchtel met regularly in his office in the Statehouse to hear petitions. In his two years in office, Buchtel pardoned 165 people for crimes as serious as murder and manslaughter and as petty as vagrancy (44 pardons) and incorrigibility. 

By contrast, Buchtel’s successor, “Honest John” Shafroth, pardoned only four people in four years. Gov. Roy Romer pardoned 21 people in 12 years and Bill Owens pardoned 13 in eight.

In Buchtel’s day, releases were often ways of remedying shortcomings in the legal system and were issued as grand gestures with holidays providing the occasions. 

On Thanksgiving 1907, for example, Buchtel freed Frank Herold, who was sentenced to life for the killings of a man and his wife described in pardon documents as “uncommonly wicked people.” Review of the case suggested that the hammer Herold had used on Charles. O’Hara was swung in self-defense and that O’Hara himself had slain his wife.

For Decoration Day, Buchtel freed convicted murderer S.C. Wilson after only three years of a 10–12 year sentence. 

For Halloween, Buchtel freed Thomas Brown, though documents describe it as an All Saints Day pardon that went into effect on All Souls’ Day, traditionally Nov. 2. Brown had been convicted of killing two men in Cripple Creek, though the chief witnesses against him had not actually seen him do it and apparently had been coached. Then, too, Brown was a deputy sheriff at the time.

Rio Blanco County killer Luther Carmon earned a pass for Colorado Day on Aug. 1, 1907, Chaffee County murderer Frank Wallace was released for Labor Day in 1907 and Embezzler I.B. Irving was the Columbus Day pardon on Oct. 12, 1907.

But perhaps the most unusual pardons Buchtel signed as governor were his New Year’s Day pardons. These were issued to “representatives of the colored race in memory of the fact that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued on New Year’s Day.”

The 1908 recipient was Clara Humphrey, sentenced in 1903 to 40–60 years for killing a man whom District Attorney J.H.H. Lowe described as “wholly worthless.”

“She did the community a favor by removing him,” Lowe wrote.

Warden John Cleghorn cited Humphrey’s “splendid prison record,” and 11 members of the jury recommended she be granted “a full, free and unconditional pardon,” which she got on Dec. 31, 1908.

Read about the history of the Buchtel Bungalow.

Bentley King (’08) contributed to this article.

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