Jewish World Review Dec. 11, 2002 / 6 Teves, 5763
Debra J. Saunders
Only act of compassion by prez can save him
Nine years ago today, Clarence Aaron was
sentenced to three life sentences without parole.
Is he a traitor? A serial killer? A terrorist? No. Aaron
is a 33-year-old nonviolent first-time drug offender
who 10 years ago hooked together two drug dealers
and was paid $1,500.
The punishment does not fit the crime. At the time of
the deal, Aaron was a senior at Southern University
in Baton Rouge, La., and having trouble paying for
school. Unlike his co-defendants, Aaron had no
criminal record, no known drug history, no history of
violence. Unlike the drug dealers, Aaron had worked
steadily from adolescence to pay for his education
and help support his family.
Yes, Aaron broke the law.
For his crime, Aaron admitted by phone from the
federal pen in Atlanta, he deserved to serve time,
maybe five to 10 years. But life without parole?
Don't credit tough drug laws -- not when all but one of
the six other people involved in the two drug rings
were let out of prison. And these are men with
records or known to have been bigger players in the
Marion Teano Watts -- one of the two dealers --
testified that he was "a major crack cocaine
distributor in the Mobile area" and had made "over a
million dollars." Watts served seven years and 10
months behind bars. He has been free since early
The other dealer, Gary Chisholm, according to court
documents, threatened to "skin" the sister of a drug
ring member. Chisholm also was charged in a
different case for dealing 15 kilograms of cocaine. His
sentence was reduced to 24 years.
So why is Aaron the only defendant now facing a life
sentence? Aaron's Boston attorney, Gregg Shapiro,
credits "sentence inversion," a phenomenon
described by the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of
Appeals: "Bold dealers may turn on their former
comrades . . . Drones of the organization -- the
runners, mules, drivers and lookouts -- have nothing
comparable to offer" to prosecutors anxious to cut
time in exchange for information.
Aaron made a second mistake: He failed to plead
guilty. Apparently, not pleading guilty and not
snitching is a bigger crime -- or at least rates a
bigger penalty -- than being a drug kingpin.
When I asked if he thought he would have received
the same sentence if he were white, Aaron
answered, "I hate to put a black and white thing on it.
I see it every day here. I look around and see the
young blacks that come into these walls . . . I don't
see too many young white kids coming into the
Aaron has a stellar prison record. In 2000, the
Atlanta warden petitioned unsuccessfully to move
Aaron to a less secure facility. The warden noted
Aaron's clean disciplinary record. Prison officials
consistently have rated his work as a personnel clerk
Aaron has only one hope -- President Bush -- who
can and should commute his sentence to time
The bad news is that Bush has yet to exercise his
pardon powers. The good news is that this Christmas
season would be a good time to start.
"By this time, in their terms, every president in recent
history except for Bill Clinton had already granted a
number of pardons," noted Margaret Love, who was
pardon attorney for Bush pere. "It's better to begin
pardoning early, because if you wait until the end of
your term, like Bill Clinton did, it will only get you into
A Justice Department official tells me Aaron's pardon
application is "pending." For his part, Aaron won't let
himself believe that he'll never get out, that in
America he would have to give up liberty for the rest
of his life for one stupid, nonviolent criminal act.
Now, only one act of compassion by George W.
Bush can save him.
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© 2000, Creators Syndicate