NACDL’s Trial Penalty Clemency Project

NACDL’s Trial Penalty Clemency Project seeks to recruit volunteers to assist federal prisoners seeking commutations. 

As set forth in the 2018 report “The Trial Penalty: The Sixth Amendment Right to Trial on the Verge of Extinction and How to Save It,” authored by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in conjunction with the Foundation for Criminal Justice, trial by jury has declined to the point that less than 3% of state and federal criminal cases are tried to a jury. And, as set forth in the Report, many of those individuals who exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to a jury trial have been severely penalized for doing so.

While society is awakening to the number of wrongs embodied in the trial penalty, there are a number of individuals living the trial penalty as they serve excessively long prison sentences as a result of electing to go to trial and holding the government to its burden. The only remedy for these individuals is executive clemency. The Trial Penalty Clemency Project aims to assist those individuals by pairing Applicants with Volunteer Attorneys who will assist them in preparing a clemency petition.

Reform is needed to end the trial penalty. In the interim, this Project provides an opportunity for a second chance to those individuals who are living it.

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Learn more about this project, and how you can be a partner in this effort.

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NACDL’s Federal Trial Penalty Clemency Project is made possible by generous support from the NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice and the Howard S. and Deborah Jonas Foundation.

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The NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice preserves and promotes the core values of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the American criminal justice system.

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"The trial penalty - frequently wielded through mandatory minimum sentences - is at the heart of mass incarceration - driving not only severe sentences for those who exercise their right to trial but disproportionately excessive sentences for those who feel they have no choice but accept the prosecutor’s plea bargain."

NACDL Board Member and Volunteer Director of NACDL’s Trial Penalty Project JaneAnne Murray

 

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Impacted Individuals


  • Brian Lakeith Rowe

    Brian Lakeith Rowe was sentenced to 30 years in 2010 for a first-time, non-violent offense, based on his role as a driver in a cocaine distribution scheme. He briefly participated in the scheme when he could not find work during the financial crisis, but exited shortly thereafter and by the time of his arrest, he was leading a happy and successful life in New York. Rowe elected to exercise his right to a trial, receiving a sentence substantially higher than eight of nine co-defendants — all more culpable than him, and all but one have been released from prison. Rowe’s prison conduct has been outstanding. He has zero disciplinary infractions and is pursuing his Associate’s Degree in Information Technology. He has a strong release plan with family in New York.

  • Yolando Blount

    Yolando Blount, now 41, has served 10 years of a 27-year sentence that she received in 2013 for her involvement in a non-violent, run-of-the-mill tax return scheme in the Middle District of Georgia. Ms. Blount pled guilty based on a sentencing analysis provided by the Probation Department to her counsel, pre-plea, indicating a potential sentence of between six to seven years. Following Ms. Blount’s plea to a plea agreement in which she waived her right to challenge any guideline enhancements at sentencing and on appeal, however, the government advocated a host of enhancements not previously previewed with Ms. Blount. The “piling on” of guideline enhancements is a tactic the government uses to punish people for exercising their right to trial. Essentially, Ms. Blount received a “trial penalty,” without ever having had the benefit of a trial. A survivor of extreme trauma and abuse and despite entering prison with what appeared to her to be a life sentence to her at the time, Ms. Blount’s prison record has been exemplary. She has zero serious disciplinary infractions and has used every opportunity to work and program. She has an excellent release plan with her mother and brother and extended family

  • Jerry Scott Minor

    Jerry Scott Minor is a 52-year-old man who has served over 17 years of a 46-year sentence stemming from the sale of methamphetamine. At the time of the offense, Mr. Minor was addicted to drugs and selling drugs to support his own habit. But since being in prison, he has completed several drug programs, and has become a drug rehabilitation mentor, an Inmate Companion for the Suicide Prevention Program, and a leather class instructor. Moreover, Mr. Minor has earned his GED, competed a 6000-hour apprenticeship in sewing machine repair, and, as head mechanic for UNICOR, gained valuable employment skills. Mr. Minor deserves to return to his family and is ready to be a productive member of society.

  • Lazelle Maxwell

    Lazelle Maxwell is entering the 14th year of a 30-year sentence for a crack-cocaine trafficking offense imposed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Mr. Maxwell was offered a sentence approximately 10 years shorter if he had elected to enter a guilty plea. He declined and received a much harsher penalty post-trial. Moreover, were Mr. Maxwell sentenced today, he would face a substantially lower sentencing range because of changes in the law that have not applied retroactively. While in prison, Mr. Maxwell has received no disciplinary infractions, has taken dozens of educational courses, and has helped provide medical care through the Inmate Companion Program. And he has done all this while fighting and surviving cancer. Mr. Maxwell has a robust community of friends and family anxious to welcome him home.

  • Ruben Noyola Garcia

    Ruben Noyola Garcia has completed 15 years of a 23-year sentence imposed after his conviction at trial for marijuana distribution. It was his first offense. Had he pled guilty, he would likely have received a sentence equivalent to that of his co-defendants, all of whom pled and received sentences of less than seven years. He worked full-time in his own auto-repair shop prior to his incarceration, and has availed himself of every opportunity for improvement – both vocational and educational — while in prison. His prison record is exemplary. He has a concrete release plan with a stable home, two job offers and a supportive community base.

  • Angela Reynolds

    Angela Reynolds is in her seventh year of a 23-year sentence she received in the Northern District of Texas for her role in a methamphetamine distribution scheme. Although she did not go to trial, she effectively received a post-trial sentence because at her sentencing, using a typical method for creating a trial penalty, the government advocated for every possible sentencing guideline enhancement. Ms. Reynolds has an exemplary prison record, during which she has trained guide dogs and worked in an HVAC apprenticeship. She has an excellent release plan with family and a supportive faith community.

  • Jason Payne

    Jason Payne has served 95 months of a 140-month sentence he received for his low-level, non-violent and unarmed role in a drug distribution scheme. His long sentence was driven by the government’s threat to file a notice relating to two prior minor drug convictions that would have subjected him to a mandatory minimum sentence of life. Mr. Payne had no choice but to accept this lengthy sentence and the judge imposed it without any departure, knowing that it saved Mr. Payne from a life sentence. Mr. Payne has a pristine disciplinary record and was released under the CARES Act at the beginning of this year. He works as a semi-truck driver and is devoting all his spare time to reconnecting with his children, family members and friends.

  • Juan Gabriel Cisneros

    Juan Gabriel Cisneros is a 53-year-old man who has served over 27 years of a life sentence for non-violent marijuana trafficking offenses. Critically, if Mr. Cisneros were sentenced today for the same offenses, he would not face a mandatory life sentence and would already be released. Moreover, Mr. Cisneros demonstrates remarkable rehabilitation, an outstanding work history, and a spotless disciplinary record.

  • Paul Bargo
    Paul Bargo is serving his 15th year of a life sentence imposed upon his conviction at trial of methamphetamine distribution offenses. His crime was entirely non-violent. His life sentence was driven by the prosecutor’s decision pre-trial to file notices to enhance Mr. Borgo’s sentence because of two prior marijuana convictions. The government offered to drop one of these recidivist enhancements if he entered a guilty plea, which would have resulted in Mr. Bargo receiving a 20-year sentence rather than life. Mr. Bargo, however, decided to exercise his Sixth Amendment right to trial. Following his conviction, his sentencing judge pointed out that sentencing discretion had been "taken out of [his] hands," and he had no choice but to impose the mandatory life sentence. Today, because of changes in the First Step Act, neither of Mr. Bargo’s marijuana convictions would qualify to enhance his sentence. As such, instead of facing a mandatory life sentence, Mr. Bargo would face (at most) a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence, a sentence he has long served. He has a pristine prison record, has successfully completed every program available to him, and worked in UNICOR. He has an excellent release plan with family in Kentucky.
  • Gladstone Morrison

    Gladstone Morrison has served eight years of a 15 years and 7 months sentence — his first and only contact with the criminal legal system. He, along with his wife Jacqueline (also in the NACDL Trial Penalty Clemency Project) was convicted on charges of fraud related to the tax preparation business he and his wife owned. Mr. Morrison declined a 3-year plea deal and chose to take his case to trial. As a result of the trial penalty, he ended up with a sentence more than five times as long as the deal offered. This draconian sentence separated him from his wife and two daughters, as well as his granddaughter. An immigrant from Jamaica who attended college on an athletic scholarship, Mr. Morrison’s conduct while incarcerated has been exemplary. He is just shy of two credits before he graduates with a Masters in Bible Theology from Tyndale Theological Seminary. In his current facility, he leads weekly church services and inmate Bible study sessions. He has an excellent release plan with his wife who he hasn’t seen for seven years.

  • Shemika Williams

    First-time offender and mother of two, Shemika Williams is in her sixth year of a 15-year sentence imposed for her low-level, non-violent role in a methamphetamine distribution scheme. The government levied two charges against Ms. Williams, carrying in the aggregate a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence — a common prosecutorial practice to discourage a defendant from going to trial and to induce cooperation. Ms. Williams pled but given her minor role in the offense had no useful information to offer. The judge had no choice but to sentence her to the mandatory minimum of 15 years. Ms. Williams has thrived in prison. She obtained her GED and has done almost a year of technical apprenticeships. She has had zero infractions. She has an excellent release plan with her aunt and a large network of supportive family and friends, including her two sons.

  • Jackie Laster

    Jackie Laster has served over six years of her 188-month sentence imposed for low-level, non-violent, unarmed role in a street crack distribution conspiracy. She pled to avoid a much higher penalty after trial, but then at sentencing, the government advocated for a series of enhancements that had never been previewed with Ms. Laster during the plea-bargaining process. In effect, she faced the post-trial sentence without the benefit of a trial. Her prison record has been exemplary. She completed a housekeeping apprenticeship and was selected as a mentor to new inmates at her prison camp. Upon release, Ms. Laster is planning on living with her older sister, who is currently caring for Ms. Laster’s son.

  • Alejandro Casillas Prieto

    Alejandro Casillas Prieto, 49 years old, is serving a life sentence for a non-violent drug offense. Since his incarceration in 2010, Mr. Prieto has demonstrated remarkable rehabilitation, with zero incidents of discipline and an outstanding work and educational history. Mr. Prieto was offered as little as two years in prison if he pled guilty. However, due in part to a misunderstanding of the sentence he would almost certainly get if convicted, he exercised his constitutional right to have a trial. On July 12, 2012, despite having no prior criminal history, he was sentenced to life in prison.

  • Brent Maurstad

    Brent Maurstad is in his 8th year of a 16.5-year sentence imposed for his low-level, non-violent role in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. A star athlete in high school and vice president of his senior class, his life unraveled because of a debilitating addiction to methamphetamine that began in his 20s. His sentence was driven by the government’s decision to threaten him with a mandatory life sentence after trial. The statute the government used was intended by Congress to ensure that the most reprehensible of drug dealers were put behind bars for a long time. Instead, they have been used all too often to incarcerate low-level drug addicts on sentences that far exceed any public safety or punishment imperatives. Mr. Maurstad’s case is one such case. In sentencing him on his guilty plea, the court used the life sentence as a reference. Mr. Maurstad would not face a life sentence today, and his charging, plea-bargaining and sentencing landscapes would be significantly more lenient. Mr. Maurstad has a spotless record in prison, where he competed two 2,000-hour apprenticeships in landscaping, and also obtained an undergraduate university certificate in horticulture. He has a solid release plan in the home he still owns in Grand Forks, blocks from his elderly mobility-challenged mother, and a job in a tree-service business.

  • Jose DeLaCruz

    Jose DeLaCruz is serving a mandatory Life sentence for a drug offense - a statutory sentence that, if he were sentenced today, would be much lower because of changes in the law. Initially facing a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence, the government decided to file notices to enhance Mr. DeLaCruz’s sentence because of prior convictions (one for simple possession, and the other for delivery of 0.5 grams of cocaine). On the day of trial, the government offered to dismiss the enhancements, which carried the mandatory Life sentence, if Mr. DeLaCruz would relinquish his constitutional right to trial and instead plead guilty. Because Mr. DeLaCruz insisted on proceeding to trial, upon conviction the court had no alternative but to impose a Life sentence. Since he has been in custody, Mr. DeLaCruz has had an exemplary prison record. He serves as a Suicide Watch Inmate Companion, assisting others who are struggling with their mental health. He has an incredible support network made up of friends and family, and has an excellent release plan.

  • Kanya Tirado

    First-time offender Kanya Tirado was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of ten years for her role as courier in a cocaine distribution scheme. Her conduct was unarmed and entirely nonviolent. Rejecting offers that would have had her serve little to no prison time if she cooperated against others, Ms. Tirado exercised her right to trial. She was convicted and the court had no choice but to impose the mandatory minimum sentence. Ms. Tirado, who was orphaned in her teens when both her parents died of AIDS, had five children ranging in age from 8 to 19 when she was incarcerated. She was released on home confinement under the CARES Act in 2021, works full-time and spends every spare minute with her children.

  • Timothy Vaughn
    Timothy Vaughn has spent over 20 years in prison for a middle-man, non-violent role in a drug conspiracy. Prior to trial, he was offered a plea bargain that would have capped his sentence at 10 years. He chose, however, to exercise his right to trial, and, because the government chose to file recidivist enhancements based on minor street-level drug convictions, he was sentenced to life in prison (later reduced to 25 years on medical grounds). Despite the hopelessness of his life sentence, Mr. Vaughn grounds has been a model inmate, maintaining an exemplary disciplinary record and bettering himself through an abundance of programming, including taking commercial driver’s license courses that he can put to use to earn a living upon his release. His prior clemency application was supported by a number of prison staff. He has a substantial familial support system waiting for him upon his release, as well as a job as a truck driver.
  • Kelvin Johnson

    Kelvin Johnson has served over eleven years of what was originally a life sentence imposed after a guilty plea for his non-violent role in a drug conspiracy. The sentence was driven by the government’s “piling on” of guideline enhancements to ensure Mr. Johnson’s guilty plea and cooperation. Nonetheless, at sentencing he was initially sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. While his sentence has since been reduced to 288 months as a result of guideline changes, he deserves to be released to his loving family primarily due to several debilitating medical conditions. Born with severe scoliosis, he has endured painful surgeries and years of cruel childhood teasing. Prior to his arrest, he was the primary caregiver to his cancer-stricken father in his final years. Mr. Johnson’s prison record has been exemplary, completing over 50 education courses, regularly attending bible study, and befriending and mentoring new inmates. He has a solid release plan that would return him to his small, tight-knit Georgia community where his family and friends love and miss him dearly and are ready to undertake his care.

  • Jacqueline Morrison

    Jacqueline Morrison has served almost seven years of a 15 years and 7 months sentence. Ms. Morrison is a first-time, non-violent offender convicted on charges of fraud related to the tax preparation business she owned. Ms. Morrison declined a 5-year plea deal and chose to take her case to trial, and as a result of the trial penalty, ended up with a sentence more than three times as long as the deal offered. This draconian sentence separated her from her husband, her two daughters, and her granddaughter. Ms. Morrison’s conduct while incarcerated has been exemplary. She is currently released on home confinement because as a Type 2 diabetic, she is at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19, and she fears being forced to return to prison which would quite literally endanger her life.

  • John K. Caylor

    John K. Caylor is a 54-year-old man who has served over 20 years in prison for a non-violent drug offense. Rejecting an offer of 15 years, he went to trial and was sentenced to life in prison. This was later reduced to 30 years. Mr. Caylor has demonstrated remarkable rehabilitation, with excellent personal conduct in prison and a history of employment through UNICOR. Despite the fact that he was not a leader of the drug conspiracy, Mr. Caylor will soon be the only remaining codefendant in prison. Mr. Caylor’s only son suffers from end stage renal failure and is in desperate need of a kidney transplant. Mr. Caylor seeks to be released so that he may try to become a kidney donor and to provide much-needed emotional support and care to his son. Based on his length of sentence served and his demonstrated rehabilitation, Mr. Caylor is deserving of clemency.

  • Betty Lee Jenkins

    Betty Lee Jenkins,62 years old, has served most of her 10.5-year sentence for distribution of medical marijuana in the State of Michigan. She was offered a plea offer with a cap of five years prior to her federal trial on conduct that was legal at the state level but remained criminalized at the federal level. Today, under more enlightened federal prosecution practices, Ms. Jenkins, a single mother of five, would not even be charged. She has had a spotless disciplinary record in prison and run several programs for her fellow prisoners, including as a wellness tutor and fitness trainer. She has an excellent release plan with her sister in Canada and plans to work as a dog trainer and dog groomer. She loves animals.

  • Mohamed Taher

    Mohamed Taher, 42, has served almost nine years of a 25-year sentence he received in 2014 for his unarmed, non-violent role in a marijuana importation and distribution conspiracy in the Western District of New York. When he rejected a plea offer to ten years, the government filed a superseding indictment carrying a mandatory minimum penalty of 22 years. Today, as a result of society’s changing views on the propriety of criminalizing marijuana, as well as enlightened federal charging policies, Mr. Taher’s likely prison sentence in this case would be less than half the time he has already served. Mr. Taher has an excellent release plan, with a large network of supportive family and friends and a solid job offer. He yearns to be reunited with his three children.

    Also supported by: Last Prisoner Project

  • Kelli Caron

    Kelli Caron is in her seventh year of a 14-year sentence she received for her non-violent, low-level role in a meth distribution conspiracy. Her participation was driven by her own meth addiction. After the prosecutor threatened her with a mandatory life sentence through the filing of a recidivist enhancement notice, Ms. Caron accepted a plea deal that would keep her incarcerated until the age of 43, robbing her of her child-bearing years. If sentenced today, Ms. Caron would receive a sentence that would be one quarter of her current one. Ms. Caron has been an exemplary prisoner. Sentenced to serve a concurrent sentence in state prison for a probation violation (related to her federal case), she enrolled in college, learned trades and took care of sick prisoners. Her extraordinary record earned her the first Minnesota state-level commutation to an incarcerated person in 28 years, granted by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz in 2020.

  • Darius Reaux

    At the age of 18, Darius Reaux, along with three other young men, committed a series of armed robberies. However, if sentenced today for the same offenses, he would not be sentenced to his current lengthy term of imprisonment. Today, Mr. Reaux is far from the troubled teenager he was at the time of his offenses. Mr. Reaux has taken full advantage of every opportunity provided to him in prison, and quickly obtained his GED and completed an intensive drug treatment program. After ten years of imprisonment, today Mr. Reaux is a mature, thoughtful young man who is a leader and mentor in the prison, has a spotless record of discipline, and is an exceptional employee in UNICOR.

  • Benton Miley

    Benton Miley is a 70-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who has served over 29 years in prison for drug-related offenses. Mr. Miley has worked for UNICOR and in various positions within the BOP for many years and has not had any disciplinary incidents in all his years of incarceration. Mr. Miley is now in poor health due to complications from colon cancer, and he suffers from periodontal disease and severe abdominal and joint pain. In addition, due to his compromised immune system, he remains at risk of suffering from severe illness if he were to contract COVID-19. Based on his length of sentence served and his demonstrated rehabilitation, Mr. Miley is deserving of clemency.

  • Karin Condon

    Karin Condon, 63, has served almost 9 years of a 15-year sentence for her entirely nonviolent and unarmed role as a taxi-driver in a drug distribution scheme in the District of North Dakota - a role she assumed to support her own addiction. Her sentence was driven by the government’s decision to file notices of recidivist enhancements in her case. Such recidivist enhancements were intended by Congress to ensure that the most reprehensible of drug dealers were put behind bars for a long time. Instead, they have been used all too often to incarcerate low-level drug addicts on sentences that far exceed any public safety or punishment imperatives. Ms. Condon’s case is one such case. In sentencing her on her guilty plea, the court used the life sentence as a reference and noted that 15 years was the lowest sentence he had ever imposed on someone facing a mandatory life sentence. Her judge also noted that “her entire criminal history is the result of her addiction. She poses no threat of harm to others, or herself.” Ms. Condon would not face a life sentence today, and her plea-bargaining (and sentencing) landscape would be significantly more lenient. Ms. Condon has an exemplary prison record and a solid release plan.

  • Barbara Williams

    Barbara Williams, 47, has served 7 years of a 16-year sentence she received from her low-level, non-violent role in a drug distribution scheme in the District of North Dakota - which itself was driven by her drug addiction and experience of abuse in her personal history. Her sentence was dictated by the government’s decision to file notices of recidivist enhancements in her case. Such recidivist enhancements were intended by Congress to ensure that the most reprehensible of drug dealers were put behind bars for a long time. Instead, they have been used all too often to incarcerate low-level drug addicts on sentences that far exceed any public safety or punishment imperatives. Ms. Willaims’s case is one such case. In sentencing her on her guilty plea, the court used the life sentence as a reference to decide her lengthy sentence. Today, that frame would significantly lower, and her sentence would be proportionately lower. She has already served the likely sentence she would receive today. Ms. Williams has an exemplary prison record and an excellent release plan.


  • Corvain Cooper - Sentence Commuted 1/20/2021

    Corvain Cooper has served over seven years of a life sentence for his non-violent participation in a conspiracy to distribute marijuana. He exercised his constitutional right and went to trial rather than cooperate with the prosecution, as some of his co-defendants did, and he was the only one sentenced to die in prison, even though some of his co-defendants were more culpable. And due to the First Step Act, if Mr. Cooper were sentenced today on the same charges, the court could have followed its stated desire for a sentence less than mandatory life.

    Also supported by: Last Prisoner Project, Life for Pot, and CAN-DO

  • Gordon Jackson

    Gordon Jackson has served 23 years of a life sentence for a conspiracy drug charge. He would have been released over 15 years ago if he took his plea offer, like his co-defendants, instead of exercising his constitutional right to a trial. Mr. Jackson has been a model prisoner, helping his peers with their mental health, and has had only one minor disciplinary infraction in the last several years.

  • John Knock - Sentence Commuted 1/20/2021

    John Knock, a first-time offender, has served 24 years of a life sentence for marijuana charges. Unlike some of his co-conspirators who pled guilty and were freed decades ago, Mr. Knock exercised his constitutional right to a trial. He has had zero incident reports during his incarceration and would have broad family support and steady employment upon release.

    Also supported by: Life for Pot, Last Prisoner Project, and CAN-DO

  • Lavonne Roach - Sentence Commuted 1/20/2021

    Lavonne Roach has served 23 years of a 30-year sentence for non-violent drug charges. Instead of accepting the prosecution’s offer of 9 to 11 years, she exercised her constitutional right to a trial. Ms. Roach’s limited criminal history is entirely non-violent and she has been a model prisoner, using her education to tutor other prisoners. Due to her obesity, hypertension, and prescribed medication, she is at higher risk of contracting and suffering complications from COVID-19.

    Also supported by: CAN-DO

  • Blanca Virgen - Sentence Commuted 1/20/2021

    Blanca Virgen, a mother of four imprisoned hundreds of miles from her family, has served 12 years of a 30-year sentence for drug charges. She exercised her constitutional right and went to trial rather than accepting the government’s plea offer of 10 years. Ms. Virgen is a model prisoner, having received countless achievement awards from her programming, and with only one minor infraction from seven years ago. Ms. Virgen wishes to go home and care for her children, two of whom recently lost their primary caregiver.

     
  • Sholam Weiss - Sentence Commuted 1/20/2021

    Sholam Weiss, the son of Holocaust survivors, has served 20 years of an 835-year sentence for fraud and related charges. Mr. Weiss exercised his constitutional right to a trial rather than accepting the prosecution’s plea deal for either five or 10 years. As a 66-year-old cancer survivor with cardiovascular disease and other medical conditions, he is particularly at risk for complications from COVID-19, which is spreading rapidly in federal prisons.

    Also supported by: Tzedek Association and CAN-DO


  • Robert Francis - Sentence Commuted 1/20/2021

    Robert Francis is serving his 19th year of a life sentence, after being offered a sentence of 25 to 30 years pre-trial. He is incarcerated on non-violent drug conspiracy charges. Had he accepted the government’s plea offer, he would be free soon, given the good time credits from his spotless disciplinary record and active efforts toward learning and rehabilitation. Instead, Mr. Francis went to trial. The prosecution held him accountable for greater drug weights and two enhancements, and, unlike some of his co-defendants who have been freed or resentenced, Mr. Francis is now slated to die in prison.

  • Cleotha Young

    Cleotha Young is serving his 7th year of a mandatory minimum 20-year sentence, after being offered a plea with a mandatory 10-year minimum prior to trial. Cleotha is a 37-year-old African-American man who is incarcerated on non-violent drug conspiracy charges. He played a minor role in the conspiracy, even according to the prosecution. However, the court was forced to sentence Mr. Young more severely than most of his co-defendants because the prosecution doubled his mandatory minimum after he decided to go to trial. Mr. Young has used his six years of incarceration to better himself, complete programs on drugs and victim impact, and gain new skills.


  • Michael Montalvo

    Michael Montalvo is serving his 32nd year of a life sentence, after being offered a sentence of 15 years pre-trial and 10 years mid-trial. Michael, a 74-year-old Vietnam War veteran, has been incarcerated for over 3 decades for a non-violent drug crime. Despite Mr. Montalvo’s leadership role in the conspiracy, he did not use violence or coercion, and the prosecution offered him 15-year and then 10-year plea deals. Mr. Montalvo is only incarcerated today because he went to trial. He has been a model prisoner, with numerous educational and rehabilitative accomplishments.

    Also supported by: CAN-DO

  • Marian Morgan

    Marian Morgan is serving her 12th year of a 35 years and 9 months sentence, although her co-defendants, including her husband, were all offered sentences capped at 15 years prior to trial, and even mid-trial, Marian was offered a sentence capped at 18 years. Marian is a 66-year-old woman who has been incarcerated for over a decade for a non-violent white-collar crime. Unlike her co-defendants, she went to trial and was sentenced to nearly twice the maximum sentence than she was offered in a mid-trial plea, and three times the highest sentence imposed on her co-defendants. She is remorseful, has been sufficiently punished, and is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to her age and incarceration in a facility which has already seen one major outbreak that led to several deaths.

    Also supported by: CAN-DO


  • Michelle Yvette Lee

    Michelle Yvette Lee has served 10 years of a 30-year sentence, after being offered a sentence to a reduced charge that would have likely resulted in a sentence close to the time she has already served. Ms. Yvette Lee is a 40-year-old woman and mother of three children who has been incarcerated over a decade for a non-violent drug distribution offense, which was driven at the time by her own debilitating addiction. She went to trial with her co-defendant husband and was sentenced to over three times the sentence she would likely have received upon a guilty plea. She has had an exemplary prison history, including taking college accounting classes and completing an office management apprenticeship. Sober and remorseful, she remains close with her children and immediate family and is eager to return to a productive life in society where she plans to find gainful employment using the skills she perfected while in custody, and complete her college education.

  • Michael Schutte

    Michael Schutte is serving his 23rd year of a 30-year sentence, after co-conspirators pled guilty and were sentenced to 10 and 14 years. Mr. Schutte has been incarcerated over two decades for a non-violent drug crime on a sentence that would be much lower today. Mr. Schutte has used this time to take a broad range of vocational classes, complete a twelve-step program, and complete other rehabilitative achievements. He is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to his age and medical conditions and has a re-entry plan with family support.


  • John Dade

    John Dade has served 18 years of a 28-year sentence, after being offered a sentence of three years pre-trial. Mr. Dade is a 64-year-old Afghanistan War veteran with several medical conditions that put him at severe risk of illness or death from COVID-19. Mr. Dade has been incarcerated for nearly 20 years after being convicted of interstate domestic violence, stemming from a burglary and simple assault and battery. Had he accepted the prosecution’s three-year plea offer in his case, he would have been released from prison 15 years ago. Instead, Mr. Dade went to trial and has suffered from a trial penalty which, due to the pandemic, could now result in his death.

  • Way Quoe Long - Sentence Commuted 1/20/2021

    Way Quoe Long is serving his 22nd year of a 50-year sentence. The co-conspirators pled guilty and were sentenced to between 10 months and 10 years of incarceration. Mr. Long has been incarcerated for over two decades for a non-violent conviction. Mr. Long’s 50-year sentence is five times longer than the next longest sentence imposed on his co-defendants. Mr. Long has spent his 22 years of incarceration striving to better himself through 20 classes, including English proficiency and obtaining his General Educational Development Diploma. Mr. Long has only incurred four non-violent disciplinary infractions, most more than a decade ago.

    Also supported by: Last Prisoner Project and Life for Pot

  • Luke Scarmazzo

    Luke Scarmazzo has served more than 12 years of a 22-year sentence. The co-defendants who pled guilty received sentences ranging from probation to one year of incarceration. Mr. Scarmazzo has been incarcerated for over a decade following a conviction for operating a medical marijuana dispensary which was legal under California law. Mr. Scarmazzo and one co-defendant (of seven) were charged under the continuing criminal enterprise statute and remain the only two convicted. As the judge noted at sentencing, Mr. Scarmazzo’s decision to go to trial was conscious and political: he genuinely believed that his delivery of marijuana for medicinal reasons was legal under prevailing law (just like John Paul Zenger in his 1735 trial believed that it was legal to recount truthful facts about the governor of New York). Mr. Scarmazzo has completed numerous classes and received an Associate's Degree.

    Also supported by: CAN-DO


  • Kenneth Charles Fragoso - Sentence Commuted 1/20/2021

    Kenneth Charles Fragoso (“Charlie”) is a 66-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who has served over 30 years for a nonviolent drug offense. He is currently serving a life sentence. If he were sentenced today for the same offense, he would already be released. Mr. Fragoso has a completely clean disciplinary record without a single instance of prohibited conduct during his three decades in prison. While in prison, Mr. Fragoso has worked for UNICOR for over 20 years, learned new trades, and mentored fellow inmates. Due to his age and medical conditions, he is facing a serious decline in his health and is at high risk of severe illness or death if he were to catch COVID-19.

    Also supported by: CAN-DO

  • Chalana McFarland - Sentence Commuted 1/20/2021

    Chalana McFarland has served 15 years of a 30-year sentence, after being offered a pre-trial plea deal with a sentence as low as 87 months (just over 7 years). The government offered Ms. McFarland a plea to fewer counts which carried a range of 87 to 327 months, with the amount depending on sentencing aspects like attributable loss and her role in the crime. Though she went to trial, Ms. McFarland actually cooperated with authorities by informing them of a potential attack on the US Attorney – but only her co-defendants, who pled guilty, received lesser sentences of 5 to 87 months. Ms. McFarland was a model incarcerated person and is now under home confinement.

    Also supported by: CAN-DO


  • Luis Gonzalez - Sentence Commuted 1/20/2021

    Luis Gonzalez is a 78-year-old non-violent drug offender who has served over 27 years in prison. If he were sentenced today, he would have been released more than 8 years ago. Mr. Gonzalez worked for UNICOR producing military uniforms for over 20 years and has only one non-violent discipline incident in all his years of incarceration. Mr. Gonzalez is now in poor health due to chronic illness and aging. Due to his length of sentence served, his demonstrated rehabilitation, and the fact that he would not be sentenced to life today, Mr. Gonzalez is deserving of clemency.

  • Derrick Smith - Sentence Commuted 1/20/2021

    Derrick Smith is serving his 20th year of a sentence of 28 years and 4 months, after being offered a maximum pre-trial sentence of 20 years. Mr. Smith gave drugs to a party companion. The young woman tragically over-dosed. Smith brought her to the hospital and prayed by her bedside, but medics were not able to save her. He was charged with distributing cocaine causing death, rejecting a pre-trial offer that would have capped his sentencing exposure at 20 years. Mr. Smith is deeply remorseful for his role in this tragic death. Mr. Smith grew up in a difficult environment with little family support but has a stellar record while incarcerated. Even aside from the trial penalty, Mr. Smith’s sentence would likely be significantly lower today under recent Supreme Court jurisprudence.


  • Dwayne White

    Dwayne White is serving his 12th year of a 25-year sentence, after being offered a sentence of 15 years with a guilty plea. Mr. White’s conviction stems from a sordid government sting: the phony stash house operation. While many co-defendants pled guilty and received lesser sentences despite being more culpable – the person who recruited Mr. White was released 2 years ago – Mr. White went to trial and the government doubled his mandatory minimum sentence. While incarcerated, Mr. White has maintained a spotless disciplinary record, earned his GED, and took numerous classes.


  • Robert Bernhardt

    Robert Bernhardt is serving his 25th year of a life sentence after rejecting a cooperation and plea deal which would have likely carried a sentence of 151 months (12 and a half years). Just a few months prior to trial, the prosecution filed an information of a prior conviction (for which Mr. Bernhardt served no time) that doubled his mandatory minimum. Along with the “stacking” enhancement of § 924(c) – which is now prohibited by the First Step Act – that resulted in a life sentence. Even without the prospect of release, Mr. Bernhardt has maintained a spotless disciplinary record while incarcerated and has completed nearly 2,000 hours of education.

  • Anthony DeJohn - Sentence Commuted 1/20/2021

    Anthony DeJohn is serving his 13th year of a life sentence after being offered a pre-trial plea deal carrying a sentence as low as 20 years. The prosecution filed an information for one of Mr. DeJohn’s prior drug convictions, and when he refused to plead guilty, they followed through on their threat to file an information on the second prior conviction, resulting in a mandatory life sentence. Other codefendants who were more culpable have since been released after pleading guilty and receiving lesser sentences. Even without the prospect of release, however, Mr. DeJohn has maintained a clear disciplinary record for years and is known in prison for his outstanding work ethic.

  • Raymond Hersman - Sentence Commuted 1/20/2021

    Raymond Hersman is serving his 9th year of a 20-year sentence, after discussing a pre-trial plea deal with the prosecution that likely would have been 7 to 10 years. The day before trial, the prosecution filed an information of a prior conviction that doubled the minimum term for Mr. Hersman’s underlying charges – from 10 to 20 years. While incarcerated, Mr. Hersman has maintained a spotless disciplinary record, worked steadily, and participated in programming and educational opportunities.


  • Brian Simmons - Sentence Commuted 1/20/2021

    Brian Simmons is serving his 5th year of a 15-year sentence after rejecting a plea deal that would have sent him home already. His equally culpable co-defendant and business partner, however, pled guilty and was sentenced to just one and a half years – a nearly 10-fold decrease compared to Mr. Simmons’ sentence. Mr. Simmons regrets his involvement in the marijuana conspiracy and his post-sentencing escape, but he has been serving his sentence since then as an exemplary inmate. His fiancée and community will support him upon his release.

 
 
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