| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES The Internet was abuzz with rival petitions on Tuesday from fans and foes of jail-bound heiress Paris Hilton alternately asking California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to pardon her or make sure she serves her time.
Four days after a Los Angeles judge sentenced Hilton to 45 days in jail for violating her probation by driving on a suspended license, the competing petitions provided a rallying point for a lively debate over whether the celebrity socialite and reality TV star deserves her punishment.
"We think 45 days in jail is a cruel punishment for the caliber of what she did," said Kyle Vincent, an artist who launched the FreeParis.org Web site and is trying to collect one million signatures on a petition seeking clemency by June 5, the date the hotel heiress was ordered to report to jail.
Vincent, 27, described himself as a longtime Hilton fan who believes her story that she was unaware her license had been suspended when she was caught driving 70 mph, or 45 mph over the speed limit after dark without headlights in February.
But Vincent's campaign involves more than sympathy for a celebutante. He also was using his site to hawk "Free Paris" T-shirts for $18.99 a piece, along with similarly themed buttons, bumper stickers and coffee mugs.
Vincent told Reuters he had collected over 500 signatures on his petition so far and had sold about 200 pieces of merchandise, with proceeds going to support "the petition drive, myself and the organizers."
His is one of at least two pro-pardon petitions to surface this week on the Internet.
A no-pardon petition urges Schwarzenegger to "ignore other petitions asking for clemency and show the people of California that no one is above the law."
Hilton herself appeared to embrace the clemency effort with a short note posted on what was identified as her personal page on the popular social networking hub MySpace.com: "My friend Joshua started his petition, please help and sihn it (sic). I LOVE YOU ALL!!!!!"
Hilton's publicist, Elliot Mintz, who she blamed in court last week for misinforming her about her license status, said the petition drive "appears to be legitimate." But Mintz said he could not immediately verify whether the message attributed to Hilton on MySpace was authentic.
The message referred to a letter on the site iPetitions.com that argues Hilton deserves a break because "She didn't hurt or kill anyone, and she has learned her lesson." It goes on to invoke one of the most famous executive pardons in history.
"If the late former President Gerald Ford could find it in his heart to pardon the late former President Richard Nixon after his mistake(s), we undeniably support Paris Hilton being pardoned for her honest mistake as well," the petition said.
Schwarzenegger's press secretary, Aaron McLear, said the governor had received no formal request to consider a pardon but added, "It would be premature for the governor to become involved in any case until the individual has exhausted their judicial remedies."
Hilton's lawyers filed a notice in court last Friday of their intention to appeal her sentence. She was on probation from a previous traffic offense.