Two years ago, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and two other officials pardoned Jeremy Giefer, who had served a short time in jail in the 1990s as a young man for having sex with a 14-year-old girlfriend whom he later married.

Blue Earth County prosecutors now say Giefer was sexually assaulting another young girl hundreds of times before and after he received his pardon.

The criminal charges filed against Giefer this month have drawn attention to the earlier pardon as Pawlenty weighs a possible run for president. Pawlenty spokesman Bruce Gordon defended the pardon Monday, noting the vote for it was unanimous.

The pardoned offense "involved sexual conduct between two people who became husband and wife, maintained a long-term marriage, had a family together," Gordon said. "The defendant completed his sentence many years before seeking the pardon, which his wife and others supported."

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and a veteran presidential campaign observer, said the circumstances of Giefer's pardon differ sharply from commutations granted by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another potential Republican candidate for president. Still, Sabato said Giefer's pardon could be used against Pawlenty if he becomes a serious candidate for president.

"Could it hurt him?" Sabato asked. "To some degree."

Giefer, of Vernon Center, was 19 in 1993 when he was charged with having sex with his underage girlfriend.

The charge was filed after a school worker noticed the girl was pregnant and began making inquiries.

Although the girl wanted the case dismissed, Giefer was convicted of sex with a minor and sentenced to 45 days in jail.

They married when he was 21 and she was 16. A judge at the time commended Giefer for staying with the girl and raising the child.

The couple's experience was chronicled on the TV show "American Journal" and Giefer did an interview from jail on a nationally syndicated show.

In a 1994 Star Tribune article, Giefer said he was being unfairly singled out for having sex with an underage girl when he chose to stay and support her and the child.

He later petitioned the state for a pardon. In 2008, Pawlenty, along with Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, a DFLer, and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, decided to unanimously grant the pardon.

It was among 24 "pardons extraordinary" granted by the Pardon Board that year.

Such pardons can be granted only by a unanimous vote to people whose sentences were completed at least 10 years previously.

Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Chris Rovney said Monday there was no indication during the pardoning process of ongoing criminality by Giefer.

"It disturbs me," he said.

But charges filed this month allege seven years of abuse by Giefer, now 36, of a girl who is now 17.

Giefer was charged with five counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, five counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of incest.

The girl told authorities that she had been sexually abused by Giefer more than 250 times since she was 9 years old, according to a criminal complaint.

Giefer has been released on $250,000 bail.

A pardon extraordinary directs courts "to issue an order setting aside the conviction, and the applicant is no longer required to report the conviction except in specific limited circumstances," according to the annual report of the Board of Pardons. "The conviction remains on the applicant's criminal record, but the fact of a pardon extraordinary is also recorded."

Pardons dogged Huckabee

Huckabee drew criticism over more than 1,000 commutations and pardons he issued during his decade as Arkansas governor. His record came under scrutiny after one person whose sentence Huckabee commuted later was suspected of killing four police officers in the Tacoma, Wash., area.

Giefer's pardon is unusual. Since Pawlenty took office in 2003, he has participated in two other pardons extraordinary: a woman who had sex with a male juvenile four years younger than she was, and another 19-year-old man convicted of having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend. That couple later married. Ten other requests for pardons extraordinary were denied, as were seven requests to shorten the sentences of sex offenders through commutations.

As for Giefer's pardon, Sabato said, "You just never know for sure how something's going to play in a campaign. ... Would it be used against [Pawlenty] in a Republican primary? Sure, if he were a serious candidate.

"Any governor is taking a chance anytime they pardon anybody for anything."

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210