Larry Thornton had just pulled up to a Wendy’s restaurant in Forsyth when he got a call around 1 p.m. Friday from the U.S. Justice Department.
“Larry, I’ve got some good news,” the caller said. Thornton was informed that President Barack Obama had just pardoned a nearly 40-year-old federal firearms conviction. It was one of 17 pardons the president issued Friday.
Thornton’s conviction, for possessing an unregistered shotgun that also did not have a serial number, had hung over the Monroe County man’s head for years, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“It’s like a weight lifted off me,” Thornton said. “I couldn’t get out of my car. I absolutely started crying.”
The conviction had prevented him from voting but, luckily, did not stand in the way of Thornton landing some pretty good jobs over the years, including one at Georgia Power, where he worked 28 years before retiring seven years ago.
Thornton said that in 1974 he was living in Macon and gave a friend a ride to Atlanta. After arriving, the friend came across a gun he wanted to buy but he didn’t have the money. Thornton gave him $20. When the friend returned with the gun wrapped in a towel, Thornton decided to keep it in the trunk of his 1973 Monte Carlo until the friend paid the $20, plus other money he owed.
“When he brought the gun back, he said, ‘This is what I bought,’ ” Thornton recalled. “I didn’t know it was illegal. I was just thinking about getting back my $20.”
Two weeks later, Bibb County detectives arrived at his Macon home and went straight to the trunk of the car. To this day, he said, he doesn’t know how they knew he had the weapon, but he suspects his friend told them.
“I found out after I was arrested that the gun didn’t even have a firing pin.”
He said his case in federal court lasted only minutes. He paid a fine and was placed on four years’ probation.
People convicted of a federal crime can apply for a presidential pardon after a five-year waiting period. Thornton, now a great grandfather, said he applied to the Justice Department in 2008 to be pardoned, but nothing happened. Until Friday.
“I believe that this is one of the greatest blessings that I have ever had,” he said.
Also among Friday’s 17 pardons was one for Edwin Hardy Futch Jr. of Pembroke, Ga., who had been convicted of theft.
Before Friday, Obama had pardoned 22 people during his presidency out of more than 1,300 applicants.
Thornton said only his wife, Rebecca, a sister and a sister-in-law knew about the case. “It’s something that’s never talked about,” he said.
He said his faith in God kept him hopeful over the years. “Everybody can stumble and fall, but you’ve got to get back up,” Thornton said. “Life is good.”