Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam granted executive clemency to eleven current or former Tennesseans on Thursday, including several involving East Tennessee cases.

Executive clemency is an act of mercy or leniency by the governor after a criminal conviction. According to a press release from the governor's office, "a commutation is a reduction of the length or type of sentence imposed for a conviction, while a pardon is a statement of forgiveness that may assist with restoration of rights or expungement of a criminal record by a judge.

This can help the individual overcome the collateral consequences of a conviction, like difficulty obtaining housing and employment.

“I am pleased to grant these acts of clemency,” Haslam said. “These individuals have made positive contributions to their communities and deserve pardons, or are individuals who will receive another chance to become contributing members of society by virtue of their commutations.”

Among them was Jeffrey Hall Connell. The Knoxville man was convicted in 1989 for DUI and aggravated assault and separate 1989 convictions for marijuana possession and public drunkenness. Before his incarceration, the Vietnam veteran was a handyman and was active in his church. The Tennessee Board of Parole recommended the pardon.

The governor also commuted the sentence of Nicky J. Randolph, of Missouri. His life sentence for committing a 1985 murder when he was a juvenile in Roane County was commuted to parole by Gov. Don Sundquist in 2000. Haslam granted an end to the parole supervision. Randolph now owns an IT business and nonprofit ministry. 

Marvin Kitchen will now be eligible for consideration of parole for a 1973 life imprisonment sentence from his convictions of armed robbery in Knox County, as his sentence effectively became life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in 1993 following additional convictions. 

Here are the other pardons, according to a press release from the governor's office:

•    Jack Farris Purkey, of Hawkins County, for his 1983 convictions for embezzlement and failure to receipt. Since his convictions, Purkey obtained a law degree and master of library science degree and subsequently worked as a librarian for Kennesaw State University and the Union County Board of Education. Purkey has been commended by many community leaders for his contributions to the community. The Tennessee Board of Parole issued a positive recommendation for granting a pardon in favor of Purkey.

•    Amir Paydar, of Florida, for his 2002 convictions for DUI and minor in possession and transporting beer in Shelby County while he was an 18-year-old college student. Paydar is now a board-certified radiologist, after having graduated with highest honors from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and completing a neuroradiology fellowship at New York University. The Tennessee Board of Parole issued a positive recommendation for granting a pardon in favor of Paydar.

•    Willie Stewart, Jr., of Arizona, for his 2004 conviction for felony possession of cocaine under 0.5 grams in Rutherford County. Stewart has been employed for a number of years by the City of Phoenix as an operations and maintenance technician in its water department, having earned an associate degree and other certifications in applied science. He also serves as a minister at a Phoenix-area Christian center. The Tennessee Board of Parole issued a positive recommendation for granting a pardon in favor of Stewart.

•    Michael Martin Lacey, of Florida, for his 1996 conviction for possession of a Schedule I controlled substance with intent to deliver in Rutherford County. Lacey has been employed in Florida in the IT sector for approximately 20 years, where he has excelled and received numerous technical certifications.  Currently, he serves as the IT manager for a corporation in Tampa.

•    Phyllis Cross, of Nashville, for her 1998 convictions for forgery and 2003 conviction for criminal impersonation in Davidson County. Cross has obtained associate and bachelor degrees in psychology and now works with others to overcome substance abuse issues and serves as a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist through the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. 

•    Richard Knott, of Oklahoma, for his 1983 convictions for sale of marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to sell in Knox County. Knott is a veteran, currently works as a shop superintendent for a steel company after working in the metal fabrication industry for decades, is active in his church, and is involved with an organization that supports child abuse victims. The Tennessee Board of Parole issued a positive recommendation for granting a pardon in favor of Knott.

Commutations were issued to the following individuals:

•    Janet Edmond Kostyal, of South Carolina, received a commutation ending her parole supervision, which has been ongoing since 1985, when her sentence of life imprisonment for a 1974 murder in Hamilton County was commuted to parole supervision by Gov. Lamar Alexander. Kostyal has complied with all conditions of her parole supervision and led a positive life during the last three decades. The Tennessee Board of Parole issued a positive recommendation for granting a commutation in favor of Kostyal.

•    Keith Jackson received a commutation reducing the mandatory minimum sentence he has to serve for possession of cocaine with intent to sell in a drug free zone in Davidson County from 25 years to 17 years, so that he is immediately eligible for parole consideration by the Board of Parole. This offense occurred approximately 940 feet from a school and had no connection with the school but nevertheless took place within the statutory 1,000-foot-threshold, resulting in an enhanced sentence of 36 years of incarceration. Jackson has a record of good conduct and self-improvement in prison. The Tennessee Board of Parole issued a positive recommendation for granting a commutation in favor of Jackson.

None of these actions results in the immediate release of any person from prison.

Haslam has previously granted one commutation, eight pardons, and one exoneration. The governor continues to review and consider additional clemency requests.