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Pardon gives Irwin man 'life without the stigma'

Renatta Signorini
| Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

North Huntingdon attorney Jerome Tierney thought a call from the federal Office of the Pardon Attorney this week would add another task with more paperwork to his day.

Instead, the call brought good news to Tierney and, in turn, to James R. Hoeckelman, his Irwin client who was indicted 25 years ago on drug-trafficking charges.

“I'm elated,” Tierney said. “I believe he deserves a pardon.”

That's what Hoeckelman, 60, got from President Obama on Monday, allowing the restoration of some of the rights he lost as a result of the conviction, according to Tierney.

According to Tribune-Review archives, police arrested Hoeckelman and four others as part of a cross-country drug operation that shuttled 100 pounds of marijuana from New Mexico to Westmoreland County. Hoeckelman, then 35 and living in Albuquerque, and a co-defendant hired two couriers to transport the drugs in 1991 from New Mexico to the Irwin interchange of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the federal grand jury indictment stated.

Police discovered the drugs in Oklahoma during a traffic violation and set up a sting operation at the Knight's Court Inn on Route 30, according to newspaper archives. Federal drug agents tailed Hoeckelman and a co-defendant on a flight from Albuquerque to Pittsburgh, where they were picked up by a fifth co-defendant. All five were arrested at the hotel on Oct. 26, 1991.

Hoeckelman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 months' imprisonment and three years of supervised release. Federal records indicate he was released from prison on June 10, 1994.

Since then, he has “led an exemplary life,” became active in his church and community and learned carpentry, Tierney wrote to the Department of Justice seeking executive clemency for Hoeckelman, who declined interview requests from the Tribune-Review.

“He's just happy to get on with his life without the stigma,” Tierney said.

Obama this week pardoned 78 people, including Hoeckelman.

According to the Justice Department, a pardon is an expression of forgiveness and restores a person's rights — such as voting or serving as a juror — that were stripped by a conviction, while potentially making it easier to obtain employment.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374 or

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