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This report references one or more of the enduring lies that the inept horse thief and train robber Thomas Vernon told about himself:
that he was "Buffalo" Tom, the rodeo star; and that he was Thomas Averill, the fantasy love child of Jim Averill and Cattle Kate.
He was neither.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A train robber, vintage old west, has won a pardon from
Tom Vernon, 82, derailed a Southern Pacific train on Nov. 10, 1929, and stole $300
from the passengers. He was caught two weeks later and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Vernon has been in Folsom State Prison since his conviction. He first requested
a pardon in 1941.
The story is itty-bitty, but there's a big problem with it. It's not possible, in
1964, for Tom to have been in Folsom "since his conviction." In California,
felons do not generally become eligible for a pardon until 10 crime-free years have passed
since their discharge from probation or parole. In fact, we know Tom had been paroled sometime before August 1953,
because that's when he shows up in Idaho as reported here.
Even today, it's not unusual for reporters to misconstrue the mechanics and significance of pardons.
The reader should be aware that a pardon is not a commutation (a lessening of a sentence), and it does not erase or seal a felon's
criminal record. Instead, a pardon restores certain rights otherwise denied felons. In California that includes, among other things,
the right to serve on a jury and, in most instances, with federal approval, the right to own
a gun — but not when a deadly weapon was used in the commission of the original crime.
So even with the pardon, Tom wouldn't
have been able to own a gun. (It also doesn't restore the right to vote because it doesn't have to. In California, the right to vote is
automatically restored upon discharge from parole.)
Edmund Gerald "Pat" Brown Sr. was the 32nd governor of California (1959 to 1967)
and the father of Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr.