I have an even worse criminal justice horror story. In 1993, Clarence Aaron received three sentences of life without parole as a first-time nonviolent drug offender. Aaron broke the law and earned time in prison. But he received a longer sentence because he didn't know enough to turn on the bosses behind two large cocaine deals. He foolishly pleaded not guilty and lied under oath. Because the buyer had planned to convert the powder cocaine into crack, his sentence was extended.
Like attorney Means, Molly Gill of Families Against Mandatory Minimums believes that Eugenia Jennings is an "extraordinary case." But also, Gill says, Obama should be "bold" and "unafraid" to do more. "This isn't political scandal; it's just doing justice."
Aaron has taken responsibility for the actions that put him in prison. He has a good prison record, and he's ready to start leading a normal life among a supportive and eager family.
Readers of this column know how tough I can be on violent career criminals. Vicious crimes deserve serious time. But the career criminals aren't doing hard time; their small-time subordinates are.
Besides, it is obscene that a young African-American man will spend the rest of his natural life in prison for a nonviolent, first-time offense committed when he was 23 years old.
Next month, Aaron will have spent 18 years in prison. As his commutation application notes, Aaron shows promise to be a law-abiding citizen, but he "continues to serve his life sentences, while all those who testified against him are now out of jail."
President Obama should free him.