Fla. Gov. Crist to seek Jim Morrison pardon

Outgoing Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he will seek a posthumous pardon for Jim Morrison, the late lead singer of The Doors, for a pair of 1969 convictions for which rock fans have sought clemency for decades.

In a phone interview with The Hill, Crist said he would present a pardon to Florida’s Board of Executive Clemency, which meets on Dec. 9 – the day after what would have been Morrison’s 67th birthday. It will be the last such meeting that Crist will preside over as governor.

ADVERTISEMENT
His predecessors were unmoved by pleas on Morrison’s behalf, and Crist will be succeeded in January by Republican Rick Scott, who is also seen as unsympathetic.

A native of Melbourne, Fla., Morrison died in Paris in July 1971 while he was still appealing convictions for profanity and indecent exposure after a chaotic concert in Miami on March 1, 1969. Doors fans and concertgoers have argued for decades over whether he actually exposed himself, and Morrison and his lawyers had hoped to turn the trial into a First Amendment showdown. He claimed in several later interviews that the trial was a sham.

Crist told The Hill two weeks ago that he was considering the pardon, and said the more he explored the 41-year-old case, the more he was convinced he wanted to correct an injustice.

"It comes down to wanting to do what I think is probably the right thing here, and that simply is to extend some forgiveness," Crist said. "After being briefed and reading more on it, more and more about the case, about the trial, about the fact that it was on appeal when he died and never got to have that chance for an appeal. ... It just brought me to the conclusion that we ought to pursue this pardon on his behalf."
 
State law requires Crist’s approval to bring the pardon forward. However, he also needs at least two more votes by the other three board members – Attorney General Bill McCollum, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson. All three leave office in January at the same time as Crist; they have made statements to the media in recent weeks that they are receptive to considering the case.

Crist said he has not talked to Sink, Bronson or McCollum because he is prohibited from discussing potential pardon cases. But he said he has followed their press statements and believes "they're coming to this issue with an open-minded attitude."

The governor was on the receiving end of a flood of worldwide media attention — which he called “a little surprising” — after The Hill’s article two weeks ago. But he said he approached the case carefully, reviewing trial transcripts, interviews with other Doors members, and even comments by a spouse of one of the prosecutors in the case. Like many Morrison defenders have claimed for years, Crist said he found no conclusive audio, video or photographic proof of Morrison’s guilt.

"There's just no actual, direct evidence," Crist said. "And it was really a combination of all of these things. Here was a very young person, in their late 20s, not old by any measure, and I just realized there may or may not have been any act taken here.

"It was the right thing to have a little empathy and extend some kindness to his family and perhaps fans of his, for whatever that might matter. When you're an outgoing governor, you hear a lot of pleas at this time for forgiveness. This is one of many that have been brought to my attention, and I want to bring it forward and give it every fair consideration."

Crist leaves office after an unsuccessful independent Senate bid against Republican Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek (Fla.); Rubio won. He said he understood the attention the pardon will generate, and that many will view a Morrison pardon as his legacy.

Yet Crist – a former lawyer and state attorney general, senator and education commissioner – said he has no misgivings, and recalled a comment that former state Attorney General Bob Butterworth once told him.

"I was told, ‘It’s important to prosecute the guilty, but it’s maybe even more important to exonerate the innocent.' It’s been hard to get that advice out of my mind as it relates to Jim Morrison’s case."