By BOB ANEZ Associated Press Writer
HELENA - Some members of an Army National Guard artillery unit, told they face training and deployment as military policemen, have asked Montana Gov. Judy Martz for pardons from minor criminal convictions so they can join their comrades on active duty.
Three men requested executive clemency and four others obtained court orders clearing their names after successfully completing deferred sentences. The clemency petitions are pending before the state Board of Pardons.
Army regulations contain a long list of offenses that can disqualify a person from being an MP. They include any felony conviction, as well as any crime involving actions showing a ''contemptuous attitude toward the law or other duly constituted authority.'' That can include loitering, trespassing, poaching - even illegal skateboarding.
Kelly Nieskens of Billings, a member of a field artillery battalion tapped for training as an MP, first asked the courts to clear his record of a 2001 drunken-driving conviction. When that failed, he sought a pardon.
''Instead of avoiding my duty as a national guardsman, I tried to get something done,'' Nieskens, 22, said Wednesday. The alternative of being left behind was not an option, he said.
In his pardon request, Nieskens called his drunken-driving conviction ''an irresponsible decision in my youth'' and said he has been a ''model citizen'' ever since.
Maj. Scott Smith, spokesman for the Montana National Guard, said Nieskens and his comrades were among 300 members of a field artillery battalion, headquartered in Billings, identified as likely members of two military police units the Guard was ordered last fall to form. They would fill in for active duty MPs in the United States and Europe who are being sent to the Mideast.
He said after criminal record screenings, 25 Guard members were told they had to do something about their past if they wanted to serve as MPs. Four soldiers cleared their records through the courts, Smith said, while three others have requested clemency.
If the clemency requests reach her desk, Gov. Judy Martz said her decisions will not be based on military considerations, but on rehabilitation questions.
''It's about how they will perform in society,'' she said. ''Will they make the same mistakes over?''