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Obama commutes more sentences but not Kwame Kilpatrick

Christine Ferretti and Jennifer Chambers The Detroit News

On his final day in the White House, President Barack Obama commuted the prison sentences of 330 people including five from Michigan — but Detroit’s disgraced ex-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick wasn’t one of them.

Since the fall, nearly 28,000 supporters signed an e-petition urging Obama to pardon the former mayor or shorten his term in federal prison for public corruption.

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.

The Change.org petition noted Kilpatrick is not a career criminal and an “extremely intelligent black man that we are going to allow to rot away in prison.” The petition, addressed to Obama, was signed “The People for the release of Kwame Kilpatrick.”

He and Bobby Ferguson, 48, a former city contractor and Kilpatrick’s fraternity brother, 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 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.

Harold Gurewitz, Kilpatrick’s appellate attorney, said on Thursday it would been “highly unusual” for Obama to commute Kilpatrick’s sentence because the majority of cases the president reduced involved drug offenses.

Still, Gurewitz said Kilpatrick’s sentence is deserving of a reduction.

“I’ve said this before: His sentence was extraordinary long. It is in the realm to reduce the length of the sentence. It’s unusual for it to happen,” Gurewitz said.

At sentencing, Gurewitz said he proposed a sentence of not more than 180 months, or 15 years.

“The law says the sentence must be sufficient but not greater than necessary. Less than 28 (years) would do that,” he said.

Thursday’s list of Michigan prisoners receiving commutations from Obama were tied to drug-related offenses and include Damion Rurshe Bates of Kalamazoo, Keith Edgerson of Ann Arbor, Melvin Fudge of Grand Rapids, Eric Hinton of Ypsilanti and Michael Anthony Mahan of Flint.

A commutation reduces a prisoner’s sentence and can reduce or eliminate financial penalties. It does not mean the person is innocent. It also doesn't remove consequences, such as not being able to vote or hold public office.

Obama has granted commutation to a total of 1,715 individuals, including 568 people who had been sentenced to life in prison, the vast majority serving time for drug crimes, according to White House officials.

With Thursday’s action, officials said, the president has granted more commutations than any president in this nation’s history and has surpassed the number of commutations granted by the past 13 presidents combined.