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Portsmouth City Councilman granted absolute pardon for forgery convictions

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Posted at 1:50 PM, Jan 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-04 22:20:58-05

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - A Portsmouth City Council member who was convicted on three counts of forgery back in 2018 has received an absolute pardon from Gov. Ralph Northam.

"I thank God for giving me and my family the strength to endure - to go through hell and come back here today, standing strong," Dr. Mark Whitaker told News 3. "We weren’t absolute as far as when it would happen, or even if it would happen. But we just knew that god was keeping us through this whole thing."

In 2018, a judge ruled that Whitaker would not be sent to prison but would face fines for three felony forgery convictions.

In July 2018, a jury found him guilty of three felony charges for forging a contractor's signature. Whitaker originally faced 20 forgery- and fraud-related charges from allegations related to his church, New Bethel Baptist Church, in 2013 and 2014, but 17 of the charges were dismissed during the trial.

Whitaker serves as an assistant pastor at the church and has always maintained his innocence.

On Tuesday, Northam granted Whitaker an absolute pardon. According to a letter from Northam, Whitaker's attorneys submitted a petition for clemency seeking a pardon.

The letter states Whitaker has had no previous criminal record prior to the conviction and continues to be a leader within the Portsmouth community. Northam states after careful deliberation he has decided to grant Whitaker an absolute pardon to reflect his innocence.

Whitaker's attorney, Del. Don Scott, believes his client's pardon is a positive sign for other families in similar situations.

"Today, while he’s living, while his family can see it, see the blessing," Del. Scott said. "The families that have been in a similar position - those who that are sitting in jails now, knowing that they may have been wrongfully convicted - they have hope."

News 3 Investigates has shined a spotlight on others hoping for a pardon from Northam, including Ronald Davis and Brian Faulcon.

Related: Delegate Cliff Hayes, others pushing for Brian Faulcon's pardon before end of Gov. Northam's term

News 3 asked Dr. Whitaker if he'd like to see others pardoned before Gov. Northam leaves office.

"It wouldn’t have to come down to a pardon, if our justice system would do justice," Whitaker said. "The pardon is an extreme measure. What I’m more concerned about is that there’s fairness in our criminal justice system."

"There are a lot of innocent people who are in prison, who have had verdicts against them," Whitaker added. "This represents hope, but at the same time, it shows that we still have a long way to go."

Tuesday, members with the Portsmouth NAACP applauded Northam's decision and called for a review of Whitaker's case by the Attorney General's Office.

Whitaker also is alleging that false evidence was planted against him in the case.

The Portsmouth NAACP released the following statement:

Today, we celebrate the absolute pardon of Dr. Mark Whitaker which is long overdue. As we said in 2018, we had serious concerns of egregious civil rights violations that prevented Dr. Whitaker from receiving a fair trial which should have never happened in the first place. Dr. Whitaker and his family were wronged—but today is a first step in righting that wrong and we are thankful for this day for Dr. Whitaker and his family. We also maintain that if anyone involved in Dr. Whitaker’s indictment violated the law, they must be legally held responsible.

In 2019, a Portsmouth NAACP delegation conducted a meeting with the Attorney General’s office pushing
for it to review the incidents and circumstances that lead to Dr. Whitaker’s indictment and trial for direct
violations of the law. Those who are sworn law enforcement officials have a legal responsibility to uphold the law and not use it for some sense of vigilantism or political purpose. However, when they do, they should be held accountable professionally and within the Court of Law. We renewed our claim again with the Attorney General’s office in 2020 but unfortunately, to date they have not completed that review which we feel is vital to ensuring that no one is above the law.

Today we also continue our call for the Attorney General’s office to complete a review to ensure that if those involved in the indictment broke the law that they still be held accountable.

Related: Councilman Dr. Mark Whitaker speaks out for first time since being indicted on 20 charges