It’s been nearly 20 years since Clarence Aaron was put in jail for conspiring to distribute crack cocaine, and unless President Obama steps in, the 19-year veteran of the American prison system is expected to stay there for a while. A long while.
Aaron wasn’t buying, selling or even touching coke when cops busted the then 23-year-old college student in 1993. Instead Aaron was simply a witness of a plotted crack transaction and associate of the buyer and seller, who, unlike him, pled guilty and gave law enforcement their full cooperation. But despite lacking any criminal record at all, however, Aaron was sentenced to serve three life sentences behind bars for his role in a would-be drug deal. Neither President Clinton nor George W. Bush offered a commutation to kill the lengthy sentence during their combined 16 years in office, and new evidence reveals that there may have been a reason for that.
An investigation launched by the website ProPublica reveals that the Bush White House was never informed of the facts of the case accounted for in a confidential Justice Department review, and that only now are America’s leaders being brought up to snuff as far as what needs to be known in the case of Clarence Aaron
Does that mean President Obama will finally free him, though?
Mandatory minimum for convicted drug felons were imposed under former President Ronald Regan’s War on Drugs and remain today. Long-term prisoner Seth Ferranti writes for TheFix.com that President Obama “was critical of the mandatory minimum drug penalties, and talked about second chances” while campaigning for office, “Yet he is on track to be the least forgiving President in US history.”
“He has pardoned just 23 people, including one commuted sentence,” writes Ferranti, who was also convicted for his involvement in a separate drug deal. “His current pace puts him firmly among the most conservative American Presidents to use these powers. So much for second chances.”
Although it’s been almost two decades since Aaron was sentence to spend the rest of his life (and two more) behind bars, his story has recently resurfaced thanks to pleads being published by prisoners such as Ferranti and other journalists who have jumped on ProPublica’s recent report. Last month, the Washington Post profiled the inmate and added some insight into how his release might someday become a reality.
When the US Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney last sent the White House Aaron’s application for commutation, the George W. Bush administration refused his plea. Now, reports the Post, it’s been revealed that crucial information was disregarded in the documentation that could have otherwise helped release Aaron. Kenneth Lee, the layer who had worked under the White House when the case was first brought to them, tells the Post that had he been privy to the information available now he would have urged President Bush to pardon the convict.
In particular, Lee says things could have been a lot different if Ronald Rodgers, the current pardon attorney, had actually provided Lee and the rest of the White House with the correct facts of the case. The attorney was supposed to provide President Bush with details about Aaron’s sentence, but as the Post reports:
“Instead, Rodgers offered no new recommendation to the White House and did not revise the old one. He did not pass on years of favorable prisoner reports describing Aaron’s successful rehabilitation. He also made no mention of an affidavit Aaron filed with the pardons office in 2007 in which he expressed further remorse and asked “for a second chance to be a productive citizen.”
“Maybe Obama will do an about-face and charge his Pardon Attorney with the responsibility of taking these clemency requests seriously, instead of denying them summarily, as has been reported,” prisoner Seth Ferranti tells The Fix. After all, the facts are now on the table and the final decision could be made at any moment by the current commander-in-chief.
Given Obama’s track record, however, neither Aaron nor Ferranti might want to hold their breath.