Now both Georgia men have had their criminal records wiped clean. They were among 17 people in 13 states to learn Friday that they had been pardoned by President Barack Obama.
“It’s like a weight lifted off me,” said Thornton of Forsyth, who got the news in a call from the Justice Department as he pulled up to a Wendy’s restaurant, “I couldn’t get out of my car. I absolutely started crying.”
The White House gave no reason for why Obama selected the people he chose to receive the first pardons of his second term. Most of them had been convicted of minor crimes and were sentenced to probation, including the two men from Georgia.
Futch of Pembroke in southeast Georgia had been convicted of theft from an interstate shipment and was sentenced to five years on probation and payment of nearly $2,400 in restitution, according to the White House. Reached by phone at his home Saturday, Futch said he got into trouble in 1976 but he didn’t want to discuss his case further.
Of his presidential pardon Futch said: “I felt like I deserved it, and my life has changed since then.”
Thornton was sentenced to four years on probation for his gun conviction. He said his brush with the law happened in 1974 after he gave a friend a ride from Macon to Atlanta, where the friend found a gun he wanted to buy. Thornton said he loaned his friend $20 to buy the shotgun, and he decided to keep it wrapped in a towel in the trunk of his car until the friend paid him back.
Two weeks later Bibb County detectives came to Thornton’s home, he said, and found the shotgun — which wasn’t registered and had no serial number — in Thornton’s trunk. Thornton said he suspects his friend called the police. He said his trial in federal court lasted mere minutes.
“I found out after I was arrested that the gun didn’t even have a firing pin,” Thornton said.
The conviction kept Thornton from voting but it didn’t prevent him from being hired to decent jobs over the years. He said he worked for Georgia Power for 28 years before retiring several years ago.
Thornton said he never talked about his conviction and only his wife, a sister and a sister-in-law knew about it.
“I believe that this is one of the greatest blessings that I have ever had,” he said.