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LaGuardia paratrooper pardoned in gun charge

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The LaGuardia Community College student who became a decorated U.S. Army paratrooper after serving time on a felony gun possession charge was pardoned Tuesday by Gov. David Paterson.

Osvaldo Hernandez, 27, dreamed of becoming a police officer after his stint in the military was done, but the weapons conviction precluded him from eligibility.

“Osvaldo Hernandez has demonstrated that individuals can turn their lives around and that we need not let our mistakes define us,” Paterson said in a statement. “In certain exceptional and compelling circumstances, an individual’s sincere efforts to repay his or her debt to society warrant a grant of this extraordinary relief.

Hernandez was arrested Nov. 22, 2002, after an unlicensed, loaded handgun was recovered from his car. Hernandez, who was working as a private investigator while attending LaGuardia, pleaded guilty to weapons possession and was sentenced to a year in prison.

After serving eight months at Rikers Island, Hernandez enlisted and was deployed to Afghanistan as a paratrooper in February 2007. He served for 15 months and earned a Combat Infantryman Badge, two Army Commendation Medals and three Army Achievement Medals.

He was honorably discharged in June 2008 and returned to New York City, where he petitioned the Queens Supreme Court for a certificate of relief from the restrictions the felony placed on his law enforcement eligibility.

Hernandez’s platoon commander, Lt. Mordecai Sorokin, gave the soldier a strong endorsement on the application.

“He has always impressed me with his outstanding maturity and judgment which have always been a hallmark of his performance,” Sorokin wrote.

Hernandez was recalled to active duty in August 2009, and is expected to redeploy to Afghanistan in January 2010. Hernandez hopes he can join the New York Police Department after his tour.

“Spc. Hernandez has acknowledged his mistake, turned his life around and served — and continues to serve — his country,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. “He has paid his debt to society and has earned this second chance.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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