"Let me just assure you in my two terms as governor, I rarely — rarely — have granted pardons.” Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire is indeed conservative with her powers of clemency, but last week she granted a full pardon to Starcia Ague, who was one of four young offenders we featured last year in an Injustice Project cover story called “Kid Crime, Adult Time.”
Gregoire, a former three-term attorney general, says that among the factors that swayed her decision were Ague’s youth, her large network of supporters, and her consistent high achieving since her arrest at 15.
Ague had a chaotic childhood filled with neglect. One parent was a drug addict, the other a meth cook. As a teen, she helped plan a break-in that turned into a home-invasion robbery when the occupants, home unexpectedly, were tied up and terrorized by her co-defendants.
Ague served a “juvenile life” sentence, from age 15 to 21, for her role. Since her release, she has graduated from Washington State University with a degree in criminal justice and is now working as a researcher at University of Washington.
“She went in an angry young woman [but] there was a remarkable change,” says George Yeannakis, a juvenile justice attorney in Seattle who helped prepare the case for Ague’s pardon.
Ague’s hearing before the Clemency and Pardons Board was Sept. 9. Even though the board voted 5-0 to recommend pardon, the governor makes up her own mind. The news of Gregoire’s decision finally came via e-mail to Ague’s mobile phone Thursday afternoon when she was driving home.
“I saw it said, ‘Congratulations.’ I was crying and trying to get myself back together. …” She started making calls. Yeannakis was among the first to hear the news.
“She called me and she started driving up the wrong way on a one-way street. I told her pull over. She was very, very excited.”
Gregoire, in a Friday interview, says she is impressed Ague is not only seeking a career in juvenile justice but has also plunged into the legislative arena, helping to pass reforms on sealing juvenile records. She’s appointed Ague to the state’s revamped Partnership Council on Juvenile Justice.
“She had a tough upbringing, but she’s not using that as an excuse. She is showing you can overcome it. What a great message, what a great role model,” Gregoire says. “She is the perfect person to get involved in the juvenile justice system.”
According to Gregoire’s staff, the Clemency and Pardons Board since 2006 has heard 708 requests for pardon, recommended 70 and the governor has granted 32, counting Ague.
“I’m taking the pardon right now to get framed,” Yeannakis says.
“[Ague] wanted to go to the Dollar Store, but I said this one deserves more than a Dollar Store frame.”