clemency

TNJ interview: Haslam discusses Cyntoia Brown decision

Gov. Bill Haslam announces on Nov. 13, 2018, that Amazon will locate its East Coast logistics hub in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in an interview with The Tennessee Journal on Monday discussed how he came to the decision to grant clemency to Cyntoia Brown, who will be released from prison after serving 15 years in August. Brown was sentenced to life in prison for a murder committed as a 16-year-old in 2004, after she had run away from home. She has said she acted in self-defense in shooting the man after she was forced into prostitution. Haslam said celebrity attention to the case led to his office receiving 100,000 calls from Brown’s supporters.

TNJ: How did you arrive at this decision?

Haslam: We have a lot of pardon and clemency requests in front of us, that’s really what I’m spending the majority of my last two weeks doing. So we wanted to be thorough on it. And No. 2, I think the thing that was so unusual about this was that, because it got such an extraordinary amount of publicity, we wanted to make certain we didn’t treat it any better or worse than any other case. We ended up getting 100,000 phone calls, which I think is the most that we’ve gotten on any issue. But while obviously that’s how democracy works, you don’t want to make decisions based on how many phone calls you get. So we wanted to set all that aside and say, what’s the right thing to do in this case? And in this case, it meant talking to everybody from her lawyers, to people who had been involved with her while she was in prison, to counselors who knew her, to try to make certain we were making the best decision.

TNJ: You had various options, you could have said she could have served 15, 20, 25 years or whatever amount of time.

Haslam: We thought about it a lot, and the governor does have incredible powers. You could say, I want her to be out in 15 minutes, or anything. I think you start out with, what’s the right thing to do, and what’s the best thing in her situation. For us, it was 15 years. A lot of people said, if that had happened today, she would have gotten 2nd degree, which would have been 15 to 25 years. And so that was one of the motivations of saying 15 years with 10 years’ probation.

TNJ: With all the celebrity attention, did that make it uncomfortable?

Haslam: There was so many cases that need that kind of review. But so many people follow Kim Kardashian, that if she tweets out ‘call the governor,’ we’re going to get a lot of phone calls. Or if it’s Rihanna, or Snoop Dogg, or whoever. For us it meant an added level of, let’s make certain we’re doing the right thing. And not penalizing because we had all these people calling us — we literally had people who couldn’t call here to get their TennCare dealt with because our phone lines were so full. So you don’t want to penalize her for that, but nor do you want to treat her any more special because 100,000 people called.

TNJ: Do you think there will be a political price to pay if you decide to run for the U.S. Senate in 2020?

Haslam: I honestly don’t know. Obviously there’s a lot of people who think it’s the greatest thing ever and some people who will be upset. I think you’ve got to shove all that aside. It’s part of why, when Corker’s seat came up, I said it’s just not right. Because I didn’t want to spend my last year-and-a-half as governor running for the Senate, and you couldn’t help but let things affect you. And that’s really why I said on this one, I’m not going to spend a lot of time thinking about it until we get out of here.

Haslam grants clemency to Cyntoia Brown

Gov. Bill Haslam has granted executive clemency to Cyntoia Brown, who will be released from prison after serving 15 years in August.

“This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case,” Haslam said.  “Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16.  Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life.  Transformation should be accompanied by hope.  So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”

Brown was sentenced to life in prison for a murder committed as a 16-year-old in 2004. She had run away from home and told the Board of Parole earlier this year that she acted in self-defense in shooting the man after she was forced into prostitution. Without modifications to her sentence, Brown wouldn’t have been eligible for parole until after 51 years in prison. Efforts to free her have drawn the support of celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and LeBron James.

The Board of Parole had split three ways in making their recommendation to Haslam: Chairman Richard Montgomery, a former Republican state lawmaker from Sevierville, and former Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble, a finalist for TBI director, called for her to be granted clemency; Gay Gregson and Zane Duncan said her sentence should be reduced to 25 years, meaning she would serve 11 more years in prison; and Roberta Kustoff, wife of U.S. Rep. David Kustoff (R-Memphis), and former Rep. Barrett Rich (R-Somerville) said clemency should be denied.

“Thank you, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance,” Brown said in a release. “I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me.”

See the full releases from Haslam and Brown after the jump.

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National campaign underway to free Nashville man sent back to federal prison after being released in 2016

More than 50,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the release of Matthew Charles from federal prison, reports WPLN, and the Nashville man’s case is otherwise getting considerable national attention – including a New York Times story suggesting he could be a candidate for clemency granted by President Donald Trump.

Charles was sentenced to 35 years in prison for selling cocaine in 1996, then freed in 2016 under a sentence-reduction program launched by former President Barack Obama – only to be sent back behind bars last week after courts ruled he technically didn’t qualify — though, by all accounts, he has led an exemplary life both while serving time and since his 2016 release.

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Parole board splits on whether Haslam should grant clemency to Cyntoia Brown

The state Board of Paroles split three ways Wednesday in a voting on whether to recommend that Gov. Bill Haslam grant some form of clemency Cyntoia Brown, a Nashville woman serving a life sentence for a murder she committed in 2004 at age 16, reports The Tennessean. The upshot is no clear suggestion to Haslam, who has said he’s aware of the case that has received national attention while giving indication of his inclinations.

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State approves $1 million in reparations for man imprisoned 31 years

Lawrence McKinney, cleared of a rape conviction after spending more than three decades in prison, has become the first person in the state to receive $1 million in reparations from the state, the maximum allowed under Tennessee law, reports WTVF.

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Congressional candidate’s ex-wife asks Haslam for pardon (via email)

Allison Burchett, ex-wife of Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and reportedly a “confidential informant” for the FBI since their 2012 divorce, has asked Gov. Bill Haslam to pardon her conviction for misdemeanor cyber crimes – part of a plea bargain arrangement – before he leaves office next January, reports Cari Wade Gervin.

The request came in a Dec. 13 email that the Nashville Post report says is similar to one sent this week to “dozens if not hundreds of people” by Allison Burchett contending Tim Burchett and others “orchestrated the false accusations” against her. Burchett is currently running for the Republican nomination in the 2nd Congressional District.

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Haslam goes against parole board, exonerates man in 1978 rape conviction

Press release from Gov. Bill Haslam

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today issued the following statement on the exoneration of Lawrence McKinney:

“Today I granted Lawrence McKinney’s request for gubernatorial exoneration from his 1978 convictions. Though the facts of this case are complex and reasonable minds may draw different conclusions from them, ultimately I respect the determinations of the Shelby County Criminal Court and District Attorney General that Mr. McKinney was not guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted and would not have been prosecuted if the DNA testing results had been available at the time of trial. Mr. McKinney was released after more than 30 years in prison when the court set aside his convictions in 2009.

“In the eyes of the judicial system, Mr. McKinney is innocent. While I appreciate the hard work and recommendations of the Board of Parole, in this case I defer to the finding of the court charged with determining Mr. McKinney’s guilt or innocence.”

McKinney, 61, was convicted of rape and burglary in Shelby County. had his record expunged after his release from prison where he spent 31 years.

Further, from The Tennessean:

Although he was out of prison and had his record expunged, McKinney still sought an executive exoneration from the governor to enable him to file for compensation with the Tennessee Board of Claims.

McKinney had the support from state Rep. Mark Pody, Pastor John Hunn of Immanuel Baptist Church in Lebanon and attorneys Jack Lowery and David Raybin in his efforts.

…The Tennessee Board of Parole voted unanimously against recommending exoneration for McKinney in 2016. At the time, at least one parole board member questioned the completeness of the DNA evidence that cleared McKinney. 

The governor is not bound to follow that recommendation and can either grant, deny or choose not to act on an executive clemency request.

Haslam to consider clemency for reported sex abuse victim who committed murder at age 16

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says his administration has begun gathering information on Cyntoia Brown, a Nashville woman whose murder conviction has become a cause célèbre, reports WPLN. But a decision on whether to grant her clemency is unlikely to come until the last days of his term in January, 2019, in keeping with a tradition established by predecessors.

Brown was convicted more than a decade ago for the murder of a Nashville man. Advocates for Brown say she was caught up in a so-called “sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline.” At 16 years old at the time of the crime, Brown says she was the victim of sex trafficking.

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Obama’s clemency to 36 Tennesseans: Excessive says Duncan; not enough says Cohen

Three dozen convicted felons in Tennessee have been given a second chance in recent years through commutations and pardons by President Barack Obama. Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen hopes he’ll do more before leaving office on Friday. Republican Congressman John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. of Knoxville says the number already granted seems “excessive.”

So reports Michael Collins. Excerpts:

“There are still so many more people in prison for non-violent offenses like marijuana convictions and due to the crack-cocaine disparity – injustices that deserve clemency,” the Memphis Democrat (Cohen) said. “I’ve been disappointed for several of my constituents who I’ve been advocating for on behalf of their relatives who haven’t received clemency.”

Obama has been much more generous than his predecessors when it comes to using his executive powers to dole out forgiveness…. Obama has commuted the sentences of more inmates than all previous presidents combined. The commutations are part of an effort by the Justice Department to rectify what it sees as overly punitive sentences from the war on drugs.

So far, 36 Tennesseans have seen their sentences reduced by the president, ranking the Volunteer State 11th in the nation in terms of commutations. The state that received the most is Florida, where Obama has reduced the sentences of 190 felons since 2011. Next is Texas, with 123.

… Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., who was a state court judge in Knox County for seven years before he was elected to Congress, agrees that sentencing reform is needed. But he thinks Obama has gone overboard in handing out commutations, most of which have come over the past two years.

…Judges should have some latitude, for example, when sentencing someone who got mixed up in the wrong crowd when they were young and had just limited drug use, Duncan said.

“To put them in the same category with big-time drug dealers is wrong,” he said. But, “I doubt if I had been president I would have done 1,100 commutations in the last two years. That sounds excessive to me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obama commutes sentences of five Tennesseans; grants pardons to two

President Barack Obama commuted the sentences Monday of five Tennesseans jailed on drug-related charges and pardoned two others convicted of non-violent crimes, reports Michael Collins.

In all, Obama commuted the sentences of 153 people across the country, including Rodney Bates of Milan, Amilcar Butler of Nashville, Joseph Lee Gulledge Jr. of Chattanooga, Kari Nicole Parks of Bristol and Timothy Orlando Rainey of Nashville.

Seventy-eight others received presidential pardons, including Kenneth Shannon Meadows of Celina and Allen Thompson Sherwood of Ooltewah.

The White House press release is HERE. Below is a cut-and-paste of information provided therein on each of the Tennesseans.

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