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Petition asks Obama to commute Kilpatrick’s sentence

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

An online petition asks for a presidential pardon or commutation for Detroit’s disgraced former mayor, saying Kwame Kilpatrick had a positive impact on the city and would be able to teach public servants about the pitfalls of corruption.

The petition’s author, who is not identified on the Change.org web site, says Kilpatrick is not a career criminal and is an “extremely intelligent black man that we are going to allow to rot away in prison.”

Many appeared to agree with the petition’s author, a Detroit native who claims to be aware of what Kilpatrick did wrong but believes his 28-year sentence for public corruption is excessive. As of Monday afternoon, it had more than 17,000 e-signatures.

But the chance of getting Kilpatrick freed early is very low, one legal expert said.

Bankole: Kilpatrick pardon is a long shot

“The case is still quite recent and he has only served a small portion of the sentence,” said Peter Henning, a former Justice Department lawyer in Detroit. “He would have a much better chance a few years from now. Three years in is very unlikely to have a review of the case.”

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Kilpatrick’s appeal of his public corruption conviction, putting a final end to his bid to overturn his sentence.

The petition at Change.org is addressed to President Barack Obama and signed “The People for the release of Kwame Kilpatrick.”

“Prior to you Mr. Obama, I had not believed a black man could be president until I saw how Kwame galvanized the City of Detroit and without his mistakes the sky could have been the limit for him. He gave the city hope again, brought investments in and he truly did make a positive impact in a community that had been headed for destruction since the 50’s because labor costs, white flight and the decline of the Big 3 automotive companies,” the petition says.

“We are talking about a man with multiple degrees who rose to mayor in one of the major cities in the country when he could have fled the ruins of Detroit and taken his talents to Washington or the private sector. Instead he took the rains (sic) of a sinking ship and did a better job than anyone could have expected.”

If released, Kilpatrick could, the author says, be given the opportunity to work for the state and city government to educate young politicians on the “slippery slope of corruption which every senator, congressmen, state rep, governor, mayor, aldermen and City Council member face everyday.”

Gina Balaya, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, was not available to comment.

Kilpatrick, 46, was convicted in 2013 of using his position as mayor of Detroit and state House representative to execute a wide-ranging racketeering conspiracy involving extortion, bribery and fraud. He and Bobby Ferguson, 47, a former city contractor and friend of Kilpatrick, were found guilty after a five-month trial of running a criminal enterprise out of the mayoral office.

Kilpatrick was sentenced to one of the longest prison terms ever handed down in a corruption case. He is serving his time at a federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma, and will be eligible for release in 2037.

In 2015, Obama visited Kilpatrick’s federal prison in Oklahoma but had no plans to meet with the mayor.

Henning said from reading the petition, the author appears to be asking for a commutation rather than a pardon, although neither is specifically spelled out in the online letter.

A commutation is reduction of a defendant’s sentence, while a pardon is a removal of the conviction and civil rights are restored, Henning said.

Kilpatrick is not eligible for a pardon because he is still serving a federal prison sentence. Pardon applicants must wait five years after their sentence is over to ask for one, Henning said. Kilpatrick is also an unlikely candidate for a pardon because a requirement is to accept responsibility for your crime which Kilpatrick never did, Henning said.

Kilpatrick and Obama have crossed paths before. When Obama was a U.S. senator from Illinois he met with Kilpatrick in Detroit in May 2007 and sought the young mayor’s endorsement during his run for the presidential nomination.

The relationship cooled a year later. In September 2008, an Obama spokesman said Kilpatrick should resign amid the text-message scandal that led to his downfall.

The online petition author acknowledges that Obama has issued 46 pardons to inmates.

“There are too many black men in prison to date. Many if who were released may or may not make an impact. Let’s not keep a good one in there for 28 years. Kwame can make an impact on so many people the day he walks out of prison. Thank you in advance for your support and peace be with you for reading,” the petition says.

According to Whitehouse.gov, Obama has commuted the sentences of 872 people. This year alone, the president has commuted the sentences of 688 individuals — more than the previous 11 presidents combined — and the most ever done by a president in a single year, according to White House officials.

JChambers@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2269

https://www.change.org/p/barack-obama-clemency-for-kwame-kilpatrick-he-was-wrong-but-28-years-is-too-excessive