The Christmas letter was sealed with hope, sent to a son behind bars from a heartbroken mother who played a role in putting him there.
"Dear Brian, I hope you never get this," Sue Aitken's card to her son, Brian, began.
Aitken, 27, serving a seven-year sentence in New Jersey for possessing handguns he purchased legally in Colorado, might walk out of Mid-State Correctional Facility before the card arrives, though, after Gov. Chris Christie signed a letter yesterday commuting his sentence to time served.
"He got a get-out-of-jail-free card instead for Christmas," Aitken's father, Larry, said joyfully last night. "I'm not sure if I know what commuting fully means, but I know my son is coming home."
Christie ordered that Aitken, a media consultant, entrepreneur and graduate student, be released as soon as "administratively possible." His father believes it might be take up to 72 hours for his son to walk out of the medium-security prison near Fort Dix.
Aitken's attorney, Evan Nappen, praised the governor for using common sense in a case that "cried out for it."
"Governor Christie is a hero to gun owners across the nation," he said.
On Jan. 2, 2009, Aitken became despondent when his ex-wife canceled a visit with their young son and left his parents' Mount Laurel home in his car. His mother, a social worker, called the police out of concern and they searched his car when he returned and found handguns, locked and unloaded, in the trunk along with hollow-point bullets and high-capacity magazines.
Aitken, who purchased the guns in Colorado when he lived there, claimed that he was permitted to have the guns in his car because of a moving exemption. Witnesses had testified that Aitken was in the process of moving from Mount Laurel to Hoboken, Nappen said.
Nappen said former Burlington County Superior Court Judge James J. Morley denied three requests from the jury to see the exemptions. Morley and the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office said Aitken did not present enough evidence to prove he was moving.
Shortly after Aitken's trial, Christie decided not to reappoint Morley, due in part to a 2009 case in which Morley dismissed animal-cruelty charges against a Moorestown cop accused of sticking his penis into the mouths of five calves.
Nappen believes Morley's role in the case may have played a part in the governor's decision, along with two stories in the Daily News recently about Aitken's case that garnered national attention.
"The Daily News played a part in freeing an innocent man," Nappen said.
Nappen said he didn't think Christie, a former U.S. Attorney who wasn't known as a gun-rights proponent, was thinking national politics when he made the decision. "The governor made the right decision for the right reasons," he said.
Nappen said Aitken would likely continue his appeal in an effort to overturn the conviction and clear his record. The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office declined to comment on the governor's decision.
Jenna Bostock, Aitken's fiancee, said she was in shock when reached last night and was scrambling to buy him a Christmas present before he returned home.