Innocent man paroled after 20 years
Racism got life sentence for “nigger” in Kingfisher County, Okla.
First, the good news. On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-0 to grant parole to Larry Yarbrough, Sr. He’ll be released from prison in a month or two at age 67.
Few prisoners deserve freedom more than Larry Yarbrough.
But it’s hard to be happy about his case.
Despite evidence pointing to his innocence and racism, a black man will have spent 20 years behind bars.
In 2014, The Clemency Report located a 2,713-page transcript of his 1997 trial. The case read like one from 1897 rather than 1997.
The setting was not friendly to people of color. Blacks make up less than 1% of the population of Kingfisher County, Okla. Yarbrough was the only black business owner. His first two barbecue joints were burned to the ground in unsolved arsons. In 2016, Donald Trump got 84% of the vote.
The trial included this memorable exchange between Yarbrough’s talented out-of-town defense attorney and the county’s elected sheriff:
Punishing safety: Ohio’s deadly mistake
Ohio’s legislature is considering a bill to create harsh new prison terms for fentanyl, a drug that’s playing a key role in an overdose epidemic that killed 3,300 Ohioans in 2015. The well-meaning anti-overdose effort is contained Ohio Senate Bill 1, a disastrously conceived proposal that will likely cause overdoses, not prevent them.
Clemency Report editor Dennis Cauchon, an Ohio resident, testified against the bill today and argued that the bill was both unjust and deadly because it based sentence length on how much fentanyl was diluted — i.e., made safer — rather than the drug itself.
“This is the opposite of harm reduction. It’s a harm production approach,” Cauchon said. “Fentanyl causes overdoses. Dilutants prevent them. The state shouldn’t punish users and dealers efforts to save lives.”
The problems with SB 1 are explained in depth in Cauchon’s written testimony. The fate of the bill has national implications. Congress and other states are considering similar harsh laws focused on punishing the extent to which fentanyl is diluted. The result will be more random, unjust prison sentences without improving public safety. read more…
Longest serving marijuana offender rejected
Pot, LSD cases getting ignored
President Obama yesterday rejected a record 2,229 clemency requests, including those from some non-violent marijuana offenders who clearly have been in prison too long.
The Justice Department released only names of those denied clemency, not the reasons for rejection, so it’s unclear why the president ignored some of the most unjust sentences. Obama has given 562 sentence commutations since taking office. He also has rejected 10,968 clemency requests during that time.
The likely reason for denying clemency to many of the most unjustly sentenced prisoners is a six-part clemency test that Obama established in 2014. These self-imposed regulations create a complex matrix technical sentencing variable, none related to the arbitrariness or injustice of a sentence.
Obama’s criteria effectively says he will reduce old sentences to what they would be if given today. This heavily weights commutation grants to crack and meth offenders, a good thing because those two drugs were singled out for sentences based on race and class rather than the drug itself. But it largely excludes marijuana and LSD offenders.
Obama’s technocratic approach has largely stripped the process of moral judgments based on fairness, humanity and common sense. But formulas aren’t enough. Mercy is a judgment call. (See my Washington Post article, “Mr. President, You’re doing clemency wrong. It’s not about the law, it’s about mercy.”)
The president’s rules have been particularly unfair to non-violent marijuana and LSD offenders. Two denials yesterday were especially heartbreaking. read more…
Larry Yarbrough, 66, an innocent man serving a life sentence in Oklahoma for a minor, non-violent drug offense, was denied parole this week by the state’s Pardon and Parole Board.
In March, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin had commuted his sentence from life without parole to life with parole. Previous parole boards had recommended his freedom and governors rejected it. This time, the governor made it possible but a newly constituted, prosecutor-friendly parole board rejected it.
This is the twisted reality of Oklahoma’s justice system, unable and unwilling to correct a mistake. read more…
President Obama shorted 46 non-violent drug sentences to a November 10, 2015 release date. The official list is here. An analysis of the race, gender, drug and sentence effect is here: “Mostly black, mostly crack.”
Details on each individual are in the story you’re reading.
Thirteen drug offenders (including Jeffrey Toler, pictured) were serving life without parole.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas‘s mom got her crack sentence reduced. Katrina Thomas, 42, will be freed in November, a year and a half early, after serving more than 15 years.
Also to be released: an 84-year-old black man given 45 years for crack…a 72-year-old black man given a life sentence for crack…and a 33-year-old black man sentenced to life for selling crack as a teenager.
Meet the 46 clemency recipients: read more…
Crack + Black = Life
Update: Donald’s life sentence was reduced by a judge to 30 years. He will be released April 26, 2016.
“Intelligent. Concerned. Loving. Family-oriented.”
That’s how Donald’s mom describes her son.
Is she right? The evidence shows she is.
Spend a few moments today meeting a fine man, Donald B.W. Evans, an intelligent 50-year-old with much to offer.
In 1990, the nation’s justice system froze this good man’s life into a racist stereotype: worthless young black male. Today, Donald is serving life without parole because he — and hundreds of others who look like him — sold crack cocaine. read more…
The Clemency Report loves and respects the drug war’s prisoners, frequent targets of bigotry and ignorance. read more…
Pot lifers not eligible for parole
Federal judges have sentenced 54 people to life without parole for marijuana since 1996, according to a new clemencyreport.org analysis of federal court data. read more…
Violent offenders now get life sentences more than drug offenders
Federal judges sentenced just 41 drug offenders to life without parole in 2014, an astonishing 78% drop since President Obama took office. read more…
Let’s send these people home
“We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven.”Archbishop Desmond Tutu
More news from The Clemency Report
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Crack + Black = Life
New: The 10 Most Outrageous Crack Cocaine Sentences
The U.S. should release one million from prison.
Is it really that many -- one million?
The actual number is 1,606,535. Read why.
Why don't I hear about these people?
Prison silences. Imprisoned men and women are barely real to most free people. The Clemency Report aims to change that.
What can I do?
Tell the story of an affected loved one. Sign the petitions at change.org to show support for nonviolent drug offenders in prison.
Tell us about someone who deserves a shorter sentence.
LSD lifer Bob Riley says thanks for caring about him.