On Christmas Eve Governor Jerry Brown pardoned 91 people for former crimes they've committed in California, including one 81-year-old Sacramento man who’d been struggling to earn a pardon for nearly 40 years.
At 81-years-old, Noah “Gene” Masterson says his memory isn't what it used to be. But August 1954 always comes back to him.
"We stole a car down in Galt and took it to see some girlfriends,” said Masterson of himself and a friend.
It was his first brush with the law. He got off with probation, but a bar fight a few months later landed him in jail for a few days.
"I know I was there long enough that I was getting bored with it,” said Masterson through a laugh.
So, he broke out –- partly the guard’s fault as he remembers it.
"He always left the key in the door, that was his mistake."
Masterson served two years, got out in 1956, and hasn't been in trouble since. He married his wife Betty in 1962. His family forgave him for his youthful indiscretions, but as time went on he wanted forgiveness from the state – a pardon.
"Every time we've applied, they just reply back 'Not at this time, try again in the next administration',” said Betty.
With every new governor, a new attempt, for almost 40 years. Masterson and his wife were ready to give up, when his nephew stepped in.
"He wanted to be able to tell his daughter that he was a free man,” said nephew Rick Griggs.
Griggs contacted two investigators, one in the governor’s legal affairs office. They dug up enough to build a new case for Masterson's pardon.
Six months of digging, until Griggs got a phone call on Christmas Eve, decades in the making.
He fought back tears describing it.
"It was pretty emotional,” Griggs said.
"Looks like you're going to get your pardon. I said, 'Well mercy be the day', that was my words right there,” said Masterson.
A gift on Christmas, and a double lesson – never give up, and you're never too old for redemption.
In addition to this pardon, Masterson and his wife Betty will celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary on New Year’s Eve.