Gov. Bill Haslam pardons 5 for decades-old crimes, including former Knoxville councilman

Travis Dorman, Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam issued his second round of pardons Tuesday as he prepares to leave the governor’s mansion in January.

Haslam granted executive clemency to five people who were convicted of crimes in Tennessee decades ago. The pardons do not wipe convictions from criminal records, but they can enable expungement or the restoration of rights in the future.

“These five individuals have made exceptional positive contributions to their communities and will be able to contribute even further by these grants of executive clemency,” Haslam said in a news release. “After thoughtfully considering their cases, I believe these individuals are deserving of pardons.”

The five people pardoned by Haslam were already out of prison. Three were convicted of crimes in Shelby County, while two were convicted of crimes in Knox County. The Board of Parole recommended granting pardons to all five people.

The pardons follow four pardons granted by the outgoing governor in July. “This is not an exhaustive list,” Haslam told reporters then. “We have others that are in the process.”

‘I would have gone to the grave with that’

That was more than 47 years ago, in July of 1971. There was “a lot of nonsense going on in public” back then, Hultquist said in an interview Tuesday. “I was young and rebellious and foolish enough to be in the midst of it.”

Hultquist was one of more than 100 people rounded up by the Knoxville Police Department in a series of stings called Operation Aquarius. Police described the operation as an effort to crack down on blatant drug dealing on The Strip, according to News Sentinel stories at the time.

Hultquist was convicted of the drug charges in 1972 and 1973. As a teenager, he didn’t know what he was doing constituted a felony; he said if he’s being honest, he’s not sure he would have cared.

He was initially sentenced to serve five or six years in prison, but he said he got out after 18 months thanks to clemency provided by former Gov. Winfield Dunn.

Now, Hultquist is the head of the Transit Alliance of East Tennessee. He recently made the news for exploring a plan to bring light rail to downtown Knoxville.

Hultquist said he’s never really suffered from the consequences that can accompany a felony conviction. But he’s had “the big red F” hanging over his head for nearly his entire life.

“There’s no way short of a gubernatorial pardon to remove that stain. It doesn’t matter what you do. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. It doesn’t matter how much you contribute to your community. It doesn’t matter. You’re still a convicted felon, and that’s a tragedy. Not just for me but for many,” he said.

“If it hadn’t been for the governor, I would have gone to the grave with that.”

Others pardoned by Haslam

The four others who received pardons are:

  • James Mulholland, who was 19 when he tried to rob two Knoxville hotels in 1971. He was convicted that year of simple robbery, taking an automobile without consent, kidnapping and armed robbery, according to the news release. Mulholland has since started his own business installing and repairing garage doors. He’s been active in his community, and he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy after being awarded the National Defense Service Medal.
  • Vanessa Luellen, who received a pardon for two convictions in Shelby County. She was convicted of fraudulent breach of trust in 1984 and of facilitating the sale of a controlled substance in 1992. Luellen has since become a community leader who aims to help people avoid a lifestyle of drugs and crime, the release states. She served as president of the Mitchell Heights Neighborhood Association and worked for 19 years as a security guard for Firestone Dental Group.
  • Scott Rushing, who was a high school senior in 1987 when he got in a fight that led to him being convicted of assault and battery in Shelby County. Rushing graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, and he now works as a gynecologic oncologist and pelvic surgeon in Vancouver, Washington. He has traveled overseas to provide medical services to impoverished women, according to the release.
  • Robert Williams, who was convicted in 1982 on charges of petit larceny, attempt of a felony, and possession of burglary tools after he tried to break into two cars in Shelby County. Williams has since had a clean record. He’s worked for two decades as a fraud investigator for Memphis Light, Gas and Water, and he has also volunteered as a juvenile probation officer.
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