In his last two months in office, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is considering a December surprise: a posthumous pardon for Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, for indecent exposure charges after an infamous 1969 Miami concert.
In a phone interview with The Hill, Crist said “stay tuned” regarding the idea of a posthumous pardon for the singer who died in Paris in 1971. Crist on Tuesday lost his independent bid for the U.S. Senate and will replaced by Republican Rick Scott in January.
Morrison, a native of Melbourne, Fla., was convicted of indecent exposure and profanity after a March 1, 1969, concert in Miami in which he allegedly exposed himself and acted lewdly. He had seen a provocative stage play the night before in Los Angeles and was purported to have drank steadily that day en route to Florida.
Other band members have stated in interviews over the years that Morrison was clearly drunk at the concert, as obvious from sound recordings which showed he also tried to provoke the audience at various times.
Ironically, Morrison was cleared of drunkenness charges in the ensuing trial, as well as a felony charge for lewd and lascivious behavior, but was convicted of exposure and profanity. Morrison and his lawyers had hoped to turn the trial into a First Amendment battle, and he claimed in several later interviews that the trial was a sham. Morrison’s death in 1971 ended the case without him ever serving any prison time.
Doors fans have clamored for years to get Morrison’s name cleared, but Crist’s predecessors in the governor’s office were unmoved. In 2007, Crist said he would consider it, acknowledging “there was some doubt about how solid the case was.” Both Morrison and Crist attended Florida State University in Tallahassee, which Crist cites as one reason he is considering the issue.
Crist hasn’t moved on a Morrison pardon since then — but time is the difference now. Pardons in Florida must go through the Board of Executive Clemency, which has one final meeting Dec. 9. Crist, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson all sit on the board, but all will leave office in January.
Crist’s Senate run prevented him from seeking a second term, while Bronson is term-limited, and the unsuccessful bids for governor by Sink and McCollum will force them from office.
Under state law, a pardon must have the consent of Crist and at least two other members. Bronson spokesman Terence McElroy said Bronson is willing to consider it, while a McCollum spokesman said McCollum would consider it only if Crist brings it forward.
The uncertainty frustrates Doors fans such as Dave Diamond, a TV producer in Ohio who has mounted a petition drive and letter-writing campaign to Crist on Morrison’s behalf for years. Diamond, who has compiled a website and an 11-part YouTube series to explain the effort, wants Crist to see Morrison as a Florida citizen, not a rock star.
“Basically all we're doing these days is waiting,” Diamond said Friday. “This is the last chance Gov. Crist will have with the board to make good on his 2007 commitment to give this longstanding case a fair review and a vote in favor for or against the special posthumous pardon request.”
Diamond notes the Dec. 9 pardon board hearing falls one day after Morrison’s birthday — the late singer would have been 67 today. In letters to Crist, he notes that in 2003, then-Gov. George Pataki (R-N.Y.) pardoned the late comedian Lenny Bruce for a 1965 obscenity conviction. And in 2006, charges against the late Enron founder Kenneth Lay were tossed by a Texas judge.
Both Lay and Morrison died pending appeal, Diamond points out, but Lay’s charges were abated within three months while Morrison’s charges haven’t been reconsidered in 40 years.
“We are still hopeful that he will see this case through,” Diamond said of Crist. “He's the only governor in Florida that's even acknowledged this effort at all, and we appreciate his time towards this matter.”
Crist said he won’t make the decision lightly, noting the many complexities surrounding the 41-year-old case. Numerous sound recordings from the show exist, for example, but Morrison’s defenders say none of the scores of photographs from the show prove the exposure charge.
“We would have to look into all of that,” Crist said.