On Monday, June 3rd, 1974, Nixon White House Chief Counsel and “hatchet man” Charles Wendell Colson entered a plea of “nolo contendere” to a charge of obstruction of justice in the Daniel Ellsberg case, which related to a 1971 burglary with the goal of finding information to discredit the anti-Vietnam War left. Colson was sentenced to one to three years, and served seven months of his sentence at Maxwell Prison in Alabama before being released. Although popular suspicion placed Colson at the heart of the Watergate conspiracy, Special Prosecuter Leon Jaworski never charged or prosecuted Colson for any crime related to Watergate. Jaworski had approached Colson with a plea deal involving no prison time for a misdemeanor related to Watergate, Colson refused to plead guilty to a crime he believed he was innocent of. After days of negotiation, Colson agreed to plead to the Ellsberg charge, a crime of which he did consider himself guilty.
Colson’s recent conversion to evangelical Christianity undoubtedly played a role in his decision to plead guilty to the Ellsberg charge. Many were suspicious of Colson’s plea, suspecting ulterior motives from a man who once said he would “walk over his grandmother” to get Nixon re-elected; however there is no disputing that Colson’s career after his prison sentence was profoundly influenced by his conversion. Unlike many evangelical Christians, Colson has long argued for prison reform as the founder of prison ministry group The Prison Fellowship, advocating for rehabilitation rather than punishment of convicts. In 2005, Time magazine named Colson one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America.