Making the most of a second chance - Republic-Times | News

Making the most of a second chance

By on June 13, 2018 at 2:30 pm

Assistant Monroe County State’s Attorney Ryan Martin

Monroe County Assistant State’s Attorney Ryan Martin recently received a pardon from Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner for felony crimes committed when he was a teenager. 

Martin learned he was one of only five people granted clemency by the governor on May 29. A total of 64 people petitioned for clemency, according to the Associated Press. 

“Ryan Martin is a guy who got a rough start, but worked hard and turned his life around,” Rauner said of the pardon. “Not only did he put himself through law school, ultimately becoming an Assistant State’s Attorney in Monroe County, but he has become an incredible force for good in his community volunteering to help turn around the lives of others.”

Martin was at work when he received a call from a Chicago number. Upon answering the phone, the caller said they were from the governor’s office and had good news.

“Right away I was shocked,” Martin said of his reaction to the news. “I never thought it would happen. I always thought you needed to know somebody or something. I didn’t really know how to react. I felt very undeserving and extremely blessed.”

When he was 17, Martin broke into his aunt’s house and robbed a corner store. He served time in prison for the offenses. 

While in prison, he earned his General Educational Development diploma. He also became a Christian and has remained one throughout his life. 

He said his faith helps put the pardon in perspective. 

“Basically what I believe is God looks at me different and looks at me that I’m not the same person I was,” Martin explained. “Just that alone means that a pardon isn’t really all that necessary. But I’m honored to receive one, for sure, and I feel extremely blessed.”

After getting out of prison, Martin earned a bachelor’s degree from Webster University in St. Louis and a law degree from Liberty University. 

He worked in a few positions in the legal field, including as a deputy district defender in Farmington, Mo., before taking his current job in December 2016.  

Martin first petitioned for clemency in 2010. Among other items, applicants must include a detailed account of their offense, a detailed narrative of their personal biography, a list of reasons for why they are seeking clemency and supporting documents like letters of recommendation.

The petition cannot be edited once it is filed.

Due to a backlog of petitions, which Rauner later cleared, Martin did not get a ruling on his application until 2015. He was denied. 

When Rauner cleared the backlog, he approved a mere 3 percent of petitions. 

“It really doesn’t affect me a whole lot, as far as right now,” Martin said of his former criminal record. “So, I kind of sat on it for a little while and then people encouraged me to reapply.”

One of those people was Martin’s longtime friend, Myron Neff. Another was Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann, who hired Martin in 2016 even though he knew about his past. 

In a letter of support for Martin’s petition to Rauner, Hitzemann explained his rationale for hiring a convicted felon.

“I knew it could affect me politically, but I was confident in the person I interviewed, and was willing to put my name and reputation on the line,” he wrote. “My gut feeling at the time was if this individual could accomplish what he has while having to answer for his past on a regular basis, he has to be a pretty special individual.  I’m happy to report my gut was correct.”

With that kind of encouragement, Martin reapplied for clemency in 2017 after waiting the requisite year between applications. That petition led to his pardon in May. 

As part of his pardon, the governor expunged Martin’s record. He also returned Martin’s Second Amendment rights. 

Hitzemann said Martin is a worthy person to receive the pardon. 

“I couldn’t be happier to have Ryan as not only a full-time assistant state’s attorney, but also as a great friend,” Hitzemann wrote in his letter to Rauner. “Ryan is a zealous advocate for the State of Illinois and for our community. He’s a wonderful story of someone who has taken full advantage of the second chance afforded him in life.”

Martin said he appreciates the pardon personally, but more so as a lesson to his children.

“The most important thing for me is my kids get to see my change because of my faith,” he said. “That’s a big part of who I am. I truly believe that it’s because I put my faith in Jesus is why all this happened and where I am where I am today.”

James Moss