The Minnesota Board of Pardons granted the first 2-1 pardon in state history to a St. Paul Public Works employee on Wednesday.

Walter Hooper Jr. cried as he told Gov. Tim Walz, Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea and Attorney General Keith Ellison about his troubled past. He cried again as he said "thank you" to the panel after the vote that removed numerous felonies from his record.

The vote was the first under a new law passed during the recent legislative session and long supported by Walz. In the history of the board — dating back to 1897 — pardons could be granted only by a unanimous vote. Now a petitioner needs to receive only two of the three votes, provided one is the governor.

The effect was immediate, with the board granting six pardons by split votes, all with the DFL governor and attorney general in support and Gildea, appointed by a Republican governor, the dissenter. The board unanimously approved 11 pardons and rejected three.

Had the six split decisions been considered in January, they would have been denied under the longstanding unanimity requirement.

But two votes is enough now to clear criminal records and restore a long list of privileges, from owning firearms to traveling out of the country and volunteering at schools. Petitioners throughout the day talked about how their records cost them jobs and held them back from finding homes to rent.

The chief justice didn't offer an explanation for her no votes, although she asked in some instances whether victims were present to speak. She has at prior meetings said she wants to hear the victims' opinions on whether to grant pardons.

Winning the votes for a pardon from the panel generally requires a strong show of family or community support, remorse, restitution, sobriety if that's an issue and a record that is mostly clear of subsequent transgressions, including parking or speeding tickets.

Hooper, 41, a union painter who now works for the St. Paul Bridge Division, is married and has five children. He had two robbery convictions from 1999, an attempted robbery conviction from 1999, an escape from custody conviction in 2001, a forged check in 2002 and financial card fraud in 2009.

Hooper was tearful throughout his 10-minute speaking allotment. "I was raised around drugs, alcohol and violence," he said.

Married since 2016 and sober, Hooper said he wants his record cleared to be a better example for his children and to be able to chaperone on school trips. Ellison asked him how he feels about what he did to his victims.

In a shaky voice, Hooper said he understands that he took both security and what small amounts of cash his victims carried, money he now realizes their parents had worked hard to earn. "I know that was all they ever had," he said, adding that his oldest son has been a victim and "any normal person just comes up to him and he's afraid."

Hooper said he wonders, too, what it took for his victims to trust again. "I do understand what I did to some of my victims because my kids have had to deal with some of those things — like getting beat up," Hooper said.

Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, attends the board meetings as an observer. He said this was the first time he saw every petitioner pardoned in the early first session.

"More mercy is good, especially when it's earned and that's what we saw this morning," Osler said. In August, Osler will become the head of the criminal division in the Hennepin County Attorney's Office.

Also receiving 2-1 pardons were Anthony Dexter Wayne Francis for stealing from a grocery store in 2012 and Joshua Bruce Kohnke for third-degree drug sale in 2000. Abass Sarjoh was pardoned for theft in 2006 and 2007. Catherine Ann Ellis was pardoned for a forged check in 1997. Deanna Denise Murphy was pardoned for first-degree assault in 2007 that she said arose after abuse from her domestic partner.

Board of Pardons sessions are a rollercoaster of emotions for those involved and often for observers. Walz took a beat to soak in an uplifting moment right before the board unanimously approved the pardon of Matthew J. Martens, who was convicted in Rock County of first-degree methamphetamine manufacturing in 2005.

Since his conviction, Martens achieved years of sobriety, became a leader in recovery and attended the board session with two of his supporters in recovery on either side of him. "The three of you are an inspiration," Walz said. "The three of you here, you can feel it, there's a sense of optimism, a sense of hopefulness."

The board meeting was historic not only because of changes in the law but also because it is Gildea's last before she steps off the bench on Oct. 1.

Before they heard from petitioners, Walz praised the chief, calling her a fierce advocate who applied "wisdom and humility" to her decisions. "I'm not a lawyer but I feel like I could pass the bar having served with Justice Gildea," the governor said.

Ellison praised her meticulousness, insight and respect for victims. "You've navigated our judicial system through some very tough moments," he said. "You have not shrank from the tough fights and you have dealt with it with integrity."

The board will hear additional petitions Thursday.