Gov. Mike Pence's spot on Donald Trump's presidential ticket may jeopardize a wrongfully convicted man's pardon request in Indiana.
The Indiana Parole Board more than two years ago recommended Pence pardon now 49-year-old Keith Cooper for an armed robbery 20 years ago, the Chicago Tribune reported. The Republican governor hasn't acted in the case.
Legal experts say Cooper's pardon would be the first from an Indiana governor based on innocence if he's successful.
Cooper was sentenced to 40 years in prison for a 1996 robbery in Elkhart that left a teen with a gunshot wound in the stomach. He was released from prison after the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned his co-defendant's conviction in 2005.
After advances in DNA testing and a nationwide offender database excluded him as the perpetrator and identified another suspect in the case, even the original trial prosecutor, Michael A. Christofeno, has urged Pence to support the pardon.
Pence accepted the Republican nomination for vice president at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on Wednesday.
Cooper watched Pence's acceptance speech in his home in the Chicago suburb of Country Club Hills.
"Listening to Pence's speech angered me," he continued. "Hearing him say, 'That we are, as we have always been, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.' Does that apply to me?"
When his co-defendant's conviction was overturned, Cooper was given the choice of being released from prison with the felony conviction on his record or facing a new trial before the same judge.
Cooper chose to go home with his wife and three children, a decision he said he doesn't regret. But he said that having the felony conviction on his record has halted his ability to reach a better living.
There are currently 18 pardon requests awaiting Pence's approval. Since he was inaugurated as governor in 2013, he has pardoned three people. His predecessor, Republican Mitch Daniels, pardoned more than 60 people during his eight years holding office.
Bruce Haynes, founding partner and president of Purple Strategies, a bipartisan communications consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., said it's not likely Pence will approve the pardon before the November election because it would be more of a distraction to the presidential campaign than political gain. Haynes also said that there's no harm in waiting because Cooper is no longer in prison.
"If you're Pence, you could say I can wait a few more months and make that decision after the election and, in the meantime, I'm not (affecting) this man in any significant way."
Fran Watson, a clinical professor of law at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, said she doesn't expect Pence to approve the pardon while in the national spotlight.
"One would think under these circumstances — where even the prosecution and victim and their family are saying you got the wrong man — it would be a bit of a given," Watson said. "He's got this really good opportunity to do what is right without anyone objecting."