Roy Grimes, left, gets a first look at the actual presidential pardon in his attorney Patrick Noel's office on March 15, 2013 Source: Times Free Press
CHATTANOOGA - Roy Grimes knows he is among the fortunate few, one of 17 Americans who received a pardon from President Barack Obama in March.
The 72-year-old mechanical engineer from Athens, Tenn., isn't sure why he was among those chosen for a presidential pardon, although he's lived a respectable life for a half century since he helped alter a money order to steal $40.83 from the East Ridge post office in 1960.
Grimes pleaded guilty to two counts of altering a postal order and was sentenced to 18 months' probation. Like all felons, he was stripped of his civil liberties, including losing the right to vote or own a gun.
Grimes told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that for years he's wanted a single-action Colt peacemaker, the type cowboys like Clint Eastwood and Chuck Connors carried in his favorite TV Westerns. The pardon is a step toward making that wish come true.
He said he doesn't know why he committed the crime when he was 20 years old or how he and his friend got the money order that had been made out to a finance company. He remembers they split the money but not how he spent it.
"We would have probably squandered it on candy or something," he said.
"You probably spent it on gas, more than likely," said Frances, his wife of 52 years.
After his conviction, Grimes got married, worked and attended college at the University of Chattanooga and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to earn his degree. He raised children and now has grandchildren.
He didn't apply for a pardon until August 2010, and he heard little after that from the Office of the Pardon Attorney. He and his wife were interviewed by an FBI agent, and U.S. Rep. John J. "Jimmy" Duncan sent a letter supporting a pardon.
Obama has pardoned only about 2 percent of all who have asked, the lowest percentage of any modern president, and there's no official explanation for why Grimes was one of them.
"We have no idea," said Patrick Noel, Grimes' attorney. "I don't know if we can even find out."
Grimes pays attention to news of local arrests, especially arrests of young people.
"It breaks my heart," he said. "I would like to be able to tell them they don't need to do that. It will bother them and follow them their entire life."