By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Kingston Police Chief Donald Briggs Jr. testified before the Governor and Executive Council Tuesday in support of a pardon for a single mother in his community who was convicted of four felonies 16 years ago saying she “has a good heart” and deserves a new chance at life.
Amy Johnson of Kingston, 36, is seeking a pardon these many years later because being a convicted felon has limited her job options and she has lived a law-abiding life raising two children.
Johnson said she got in with the wrong crowd in her late teens, made bad decisions with substance abuse, was thankful that she went to jail and would now like to find daytime work and a job with healthcare benefits for her two youngsters.
She served one year in jail after pleading guilty to hindering apprehension, accomplice to witness tampering, conspiracy to witness tampering, and falsifying physical evidence.
“At the time of my offenses I was young, naive and influenced by my abusive boyfriend,” Johnson wrote to the Council. “He manipulated and emotionally abused me. He was able to influence me to commit the offenses that I did not realize were crimes. I was using opiates at the time which contributed to my poor decisions.”
She said she wanted to do what was right.
“I took responsibility for my role in the crimes and wanted to do the ‘right thing’ so that I did not have to put everyone involved through a trial,” Johnson said.
In her petition, Johnson described the falsifying evidence charge as resulting from a NH SWAT team raid on the apartment she shared with her then-boyfriend William Maurier. He was arrested, she said, and after police searched the apartment, she found his gun on top of a pile of clothes in plain sight. Johnson disposed of it in a pond in Haverhill, Mass., afraid of getting in trouble or her boyfriend getting in worse trouble, she said.
Briggs, who has been the chief the past 25 years, said he has known Johnson for 30 years since she was age 6. He said her parents went through a terrible divorce when she was 12.
Briggs said she started hanging around “with bad kids” at the age of 18 and at the age of 20 started dating a man who later became a career criminal in New Hampshire.
She served one year in jail, which Briggs said was the start of her turning her life around.
“I do want to tell you, that was the best thing that happened to Amy Johnson. It was good. I am very happy to inform you since that time that she went to jail, 16 years ago she has been a model citizen, works hard to support her children, and is always very polite, respectful, and extremely honest.”
He said she should be pardoned because it would advance her career opportunities and continue to be a positive influence on her children and others she comes in contact with, Briggs said.
“She knew she was wrong,” Briggs said, “which is important,” because she took responsibility and did not fight her charge. But I think it is helpful to have some way to say OK, you’ve changed your life, rather than punishing her for the rest of her life, ‘what can we do?'” Briggs said. “and this is the process.”
“It would be a good thing if this does happen,” Briggs said of the pardon. “I think it starts a new life for Amy.”
Recently, he said he saw her reach out to a troubled youth in her community and took that child fishing.
“That kid goes fishing with her a lot and has helped that child considerably,” Briggs said.
“She’s been clean for 16 years, hasn’t got a parking ticket, a speeding ticket, nothing,” Briggs said. “But there is nothing in the process to allow us to say ‘OK…you paid that price’ in her case.”
Johnson did ask for an annulment in Superior Court but, he said, was told her the only option was to go to ask for a pardon from the Governor and Executive Council.
The granting of the pardon hearing itself was rare, and the first time the council had been together in person since the pandemic began.
Last year, the Council voted against a pardon for Alain Ata, owner of Ata Boys Auto Services LLC of Manchester and denied holding a commutation hearing for Pam Smart, who was convicted of being an accomplice to the murder of her husband, Gregg Smart. Smart maintains her innocence.
Rather than meet in the Executive Council chambers at the State House, the Council met Tuesday in the Howard Rec Building on the campus of the former state hospital grounds in Concord where social distancing could be achieved. All members of the Council, Gov. Chris Sununu and all in attendance wore face masks.
Don Blaszka of Derry served as Johnson’s attorney. Rockingham County Attorney’s Office, the prosecuting party, sent a letter stating they take no official position on the pardon request. Attorney General Gordon MacDonald was present and said the only remedy Johnson had was a pardon.
Executive Councilor Michael Cryans, D-Hanover, asked Johnson what she would say to a room of 100 high school kids about her experience. Johnson said she would warn them against substance abuse and tell them that there are consequences to behaviors, adding she finds herself sometimes warning young co-workers against the path that led her to jail.
Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua, asked if she had gone to school to advance her career. Johnson said she said went to hairdressing school for a while, but it was not what she expected and since has worked at night as a waitress.
The Executive Council took the matter under advisement and will likely vote at an upcoming meeting on the pardon request.