'There is no pardon for me': Minnesota survivor faces man who raped her
ST. PAUL — A Minnesota woman whose then-uncle raped her nearly three decades ago faced the man again Tuesday, June 25, and advocated for reforms to the state's pardon system that could relieve the trauma for survivors asked to come forward.
Amy Fredrickson testified against Thomas Ondov, the man who sought the pardon extraordinary from the Minnesota Board of Pardons, saying his impact on her life was lasting. It was the first time she'd seen Ondov, her aunt's ex-husband, since the morning after he assaulted her in 1990.
“There is no pardon for me. That can never be erased," said Fredrickson, who works as director of membership marketing at Fargo-based Forum Communications Company, which owns Forum News Service. "I can’t erase it and I don’t think it should be erased for the person who’s responsible for causing me and my entire family so much harm and pain."
In 1990, Ondov, who was then 33, kissed, touched and penetrated Fredrickson with his penis after he gave her drugs and alcohol without her knowledge. In 1991, Ondov pleaded guilty to the incident and was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Ondov was sentenced to 86 months in prison for the sexual assault, which was stayed to allow him to complete sex offender treatment through the Alpha Human Services program. He then served 15 years of probation. In the years since completing his conviction, Ondov has continued group therapy, taken up volunteer work and found a deeper connection to his faith and to family, he said.
The 62-year-old told the board his life has also been altered by the conviction. The pardon extraordinary would help him obtain employment and clear his name, he said.
"I no longer want to be a sex offender," Ondov told the board. "That is an act that I engaged in at one point in time. I believe that I am now an honorable person."
The board's three members: Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea expressed concern about the precedent approving the pardon would create but said they appreciated Ondov's efforts to reform his life.
“The offense is sort of what really has me hung up,” Ellison said. “I’m really worried about what signal we might send to victims and to the community at large.”
To which, Ondov responded, “You’re concerned about a message it sends, I understand. There needs to be a hope for those (offenders) who are in treatment.”
After taking their testimony, the Board of Pardons unanimously rejected the pardon request, and members said they'd seriously consider changes to the process. Walz told Fredrickson that legislation was being drafted to make the pardon system more sensitive to survivors.
"You should not be put in this position," Walz said. “I wish I could grant you a pardon from what happened on that day."
Fredrickson said the decision made the pain of reliving the assault and testifying before the panel worth it. Ondov, meanwhile, collapsed after leaving the hearing room. He appeared to have a panic attack and was attended to by paramedics. Ondov and his family declined further comment after the hearing.
Lawmakers earlier this year filed a bill that would create a clemency review commission tasked with reviewing applications and recommending their approval or denial before they come before the Board of Pardons.
In Minnesota, offenders can seek a pardon extraordinary after they complete their sentences and wait a prescribed period of time. If the pardon is granted, the state sets aside the conviction and the offender no longer has to report it.
Unlike typical pardons or commutations, all applications for pardons extraordinary that meet basic requirements come before the Board of Pardons. That means those who have committed violent or sexual offenses get a chance to ask the board to pardon them a decade after their sentence expires. And as part of that hearing, victims are invited to share their stories, which means again facing an offender.
That process has to change to reduce the trauma for survivors asked to share their stories, Fredrickson said. Adding that, ideally, those convicted of first-degree sexual conduct wouldn't be eligible to request the pardons.
“I’m sorry that I had to get the letter from the Minnesota Board of Pardons and be part of this process today. I don’t think it’s fair that I have to relive this," Fredrickson said. “Victims should never have to go through this. It’s absurd, and I would never want that to happen to anybody else."
Advocates working to protect the rights of offenders said blocking the possibility of a pardon for those who’ve been convicted of certain crimes is the wrong approach. And Walz signaled that specifically blocking some crimes for the opportunity for a pardon was a step too far.
“I think codifying that leaves the human element and the human compassion piece out of it, and I think justice and decency will reign," Walz told reporters.
Victims of crime provide valuable information to the board in making its decisions, Gildea said, and they should continue to weigh in on the decisions members make.
“I think receiving survivor and victim input has been very important to me,” she said. “How we receive that we can certainly work on to make it less difficult and less traumatic for those who have been through these circumstances.”
The Board of Pardons has issued pardons extraordinary to six people convicted of criminal sexual conduct since 1992, including one who was pardoned on Tuesday. In each of those cases, the individual pardoned had been convicted of third- or fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, lower level crimes with lesser penalties than first-degree sexual conduct.