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.
Larry was the only black business person in Kingfisher County when he was targeted by a sheriff who admitted at trial that he’d repeatedly used the word “nigger.” Two drug sniffing dogs found nothing in Larry’s small home during the early morning raid.Then, around lunchtime, a small amount of cocaine was found by a sheriff’s deputy inside a Barbie thermos in the living room of his small home.
No fingerprints were found on the thermos. An all-white jury convicted Larry. He was sentenced to life without parole in 1997 by a judge who was mother-in-law of a sheriff’s deputy.
Just another day in the Oklahoma justice system. No appeals court even raised an eyebrow at the facts.
Personally, I prefer guilty people. Undisputed facts lets everyone focus on proportionality and whether something is a crime at all.
This case would be outrageous enough if a guilty Larry had already served nearly 20 years for a little cocaine in a Barbie thermos. But that’s not what happened.
This is a case of actual innocence, racism spoken aloud and a broken legal system designed to protect itself, not citizens or the ideal of justice.
— Dennis Cauchon, editor, The Clemency Report