DEER LODGE — The state Board of Pardons and Parole has voted to recommend that the governor grant executive clemency to a Glasgow man who was convicted of raping his girlfriend when she was 15 and he was 19.
Russell “Delano” Foster argued the sex was consensual, but because she was under the age of legal consent, Foster was convicted in 1996. The two married when he got out of prison in 2000. They now have four children ranging in age from 14 to 20.
Delano and Amber Foster traveled to Deer Lodge and were prepared to speak to the board Wednesday about their request, but board chairman Mark Staples noted the board was familiar with the request.
“We’re inclined to approve it and sent it to the governor,” Staples said, noting that clemency is rarely granted. “This is a rare circumstance.”
Staples and board members Sandy Heaton and Patricia Iron Cloud voted to forward the clemency request to Gov. Steve Bullock.
The couple says having the sex offense on his record can prevent them from getting certain state licenses or government contracts. They tell the Great Falls Tribune that if Bullock grants executive clemency, they will seek to have the conviction expunged from Foster’s record.
Delano Foster, 40, said he was relieved his petition had passed one hurdle.
“I’ve waited for this for over 20 years,” he said.
The Fosters petitioned the Parole Board for a pardon in 2012, but received a form letter denying the request, Amber Foster said.
Delano Foster said the decision “is evidence the board of pardons has changed,” he said.
The board had come under increased scrutiny after inmate complaints about inconsistent decisions and concerns over the amount of power the board had. The former chairman, Mike McKee of Hamilton, resigned in December 2014.
The 2015 Legislature passed a bill that gave the governor the final say on whether to grant clemency, even in cases that did not involve the death penalty. Before that, the board could deny a clemency petition and block the governor from considering it.
The Council of State Government’s Justice Center reviewed Montana’s justice system and recommended in June that the parole board be made up of three paid members rather than seven volunteer members, who would then have more time for training, more availability and develop more expertise. The center recommended the board rely on evaluations by prison staff in determining whether someone is eligible for parole and under what conditions, rather than adding their own conditions at a parole hearing.
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