It's a gas, gas, gas: Rocker seeks pardon for '75 Fordyce arrest

BY SETH BLOMELEY ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

Keith Richards, famed lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones, is seeking a pardon from Gov. Mike Huckabee for a 1975 reckless driving conviction in Fordyce.

   Who prepared Richards' application ? The form says "Governor Mike Huckabee - Chief Counsel Milton Fine."

   The state Parole Board members, who are appointed by Huckabee, have unanimously recommended that Richards receive the pardon.

   The final say rests with Huckabee, who plays bass guitar in a band called Capitol Offense.

   Folks in Fordyce were scratching their heads about why Richards would apply for a pardon on a traffic violation in Arkansas more than 30 years after the fact.

   "Why does he need to get a pardon for that?" asked Paul Holt, owner of the 4-Dice restaurant in Fordyce where Richards ate before being arrested. "He doesn't give a damn what people think about him around here."

   Fran Curtis, a publicist for the Rolling Stones in New York City, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette she didn't have further information.

   "I don't know anything about it," Curtis said. "It seems strange to me."

   Messages left at the number on the application for Richards' manager, Jane Rose of New York City, weren't returned.

   Huckabee said that "of course" he's a Richards fan.

   "Every musician in the world recognizes his talent," Huckabee said through a spokesman. "This came about during a conversation we had when I realized that his impression of our state was marred by a misdemeanor traffic stop. I wanted to clear his 'record' in Arkansas as a goodwill gesture."

   Huckabee didn't say to whom he was talking when he realized that. He didn't say whether he had talked to Richards about it.

   Parole Board spokesman Rhonda Sharp said the staff members who process clemency applications recall no other time that the governor's office has helped prepare an application.

   During his tenure, Huckabee has been criticized for his use of the clemency powers. Through April, the total sentence commutations issued by Huckabee were 146, including 12 for murderers, according to records at the secretary of state's office. A clemency can be either a sentence commutation or a pardon for someone who has already discharged his sentence, such as in Richards' situation.

   July 5, 1975, was the day Richards and fellow Stones bandmate Ron Wood ended up in Fordyce driving from Memphis to Dallas along back roads to see the countryside.

   After eating, the Stones, accompanied by a security guard and a fan along for the ride, were stopped by Fordyce police. Richards was driving. He bent over to adjust the radio and the car swerved, getting the attention of officers. Officers reported they smelled a marijuanalike odor and ordered the Stones to City Hall.

   Cary Dunn, a Dallas County sheriff 's deputy who was a Fordyce police officer in 1975, recalled that the arrest was a big event and attracted many people to City Hall, excited about a chance to see the rock stars.

   "We were trying to keep the local crowd... from knocking down the doors," Dunn said.

   Richards was charged with reckless driving and possession of a concealed knife. The fan was charged with possession of controlled substance.

   The knife charge was dropped and Richards pleaded guilty to the reckless driving charge and paid a $162.50 fine.

   On March 9 of this year, the band played before 15,000 fans at Alltel Arena in North Little Rock. That day, the Democrat-Gazette carried an article about Richards' old arrest in Fordyce.

   "Anybody here from Fordyce?" Richards asked during the show, adding that he "used to know the chief of police there."

   His application for clemency leaves many questions blank, such as the sections for references, for family members, previous marriages, criminal history, previous jobs and educational background.

   Sharp said there is no requirement that an applicant answer every question.

   Under employment, he's listed as "self employed - guitarist, Rolling Stones."

   His health is described as "excellent" and the application says "no" as to whether he's ever been confined in a mental hospital.

   Questions about drug and alcohol use are also left blank.

   The signature on the document is illegible. It was notarized in Queens County, N.Y.

   Huckabee wouldn't say why he or his staff were the ones who filled out the document and why some questions were left blank.

   Tom Mays, a loan officer in Little Rock whose father Tommy Mays was city attorney in Fordyce in 1975 and prosecuted Richards, laughed when he heard about the pardon application.

   "Why would he do that after all this time?" Mays asked. "Maybe it's a good publicity stunt for [Huckabee]."

   Holt and Dunn said they didn't see anything wrong with granting Richards a pardon and doubted anyone in Fordyce would mind.

   District 13 Prosecuting Attorney Jamie Pratt wasn't in the office Tuesday and his deputy for Dallas County also was out of town and couldn't be reached for comment, their secretaries said.

   Sharp, the Parole Board spokesman, said board members who voted for Richards' pardon were Chairman LeRoy Brownlee of Little Rock; former state Sen. Bill Walker, DLittle Rock; Carolyn Robinson of Brinkley; John Felt of Pine Bluff; and John Belken of Calico Rock.

   That vote was July 3. The recommendation will be transmitted to the governor for him to act on within 30 days from when the recommendation is posted on the board's Web site. That happened Tuesday. Sharp said she would have done that more quickly but she was on vacation.

   There didn't appear to be any practical benefit to a pardon for Richards.

   Driving infractions for noncommercial drivers are kept for insurance purposes for three years at the Department of Finance of Administration.

   Brad Cazort, criminal records administrator at the Arkansas Crime Information Center, said his agency doesn't keep driving records unless a person is arrested. He said if a person was also charged with a concealed knife, that person probably would be in the system. He said a pardon doesn't destroy the record of the arrest. But he said the pardon is noted on the person's record.

   "If you get arrested, it'll be there for criminal justice purposes," Cazort said.

   Many people convicted of felonies request pardons to be allowed to possess guns so they can hunt. Others request the pardons to allow them to pass criminal records checks for certain jobs that ban convicted felons.

   Reckless driving is a misdemeanor.

   Two years after the Fordyce arrest, Richards was arrested in a Toronto hotel in 1977 for heroin possession. He was sentenced to a year's probation and ordered to give two benefit concerts.

   "For me, it turned out to be the kick in the ass that I needed," Richards told the Los Angeles Times in 1994.

   Richards and Stones lead singer Mick Jagger were arrested in Sussex, England, in 1967 for drug offenses. Richards was sentenced to a year in prison for allowing his house to be used for smoking cannabis. But an appeals court threw out the convictions, according to a Scripps-Howard News Service article in 2000.

   In 1972, Richards was arrested in Providence, R.I., for assaulting a photographer with a belt buckle. He never returned for his trial, and the charges were dropped five years later, according to a 1997 Providence Journal Bulletin article.

see the clemency document here