Obama commutes sentences, pardons 9 from Michigan

Karen Bouffard

Nine Michigan felons convicted of federal crimes will have a chance at freedom after they were granted clemency Monday by President Barack Obama.

The list of 231 people granted commutations or pardons Monday — including nine from Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, Bay City and Southfield — did not include Kwame Kilpatrick despite an online petition drive calling for Obama to pardon the former Detroit mayor.

It was the most individual acts of clemency granted in a single day by any U.S. president. Obama commuted the sentences of 153 people, including five from Michigan who will have their sentences reduced. The announcement brought the total number of commutations granted by Obama during his presidency to 1,176.

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.

Commutations were granted Monday to Darrell Atkins and Darnell L. Walker, both of Detroit; Lee Henry Berry, of Bay City; and Clifton Ladell Holmes and Harold Dean Jones, of Flint. All were convicted of drug offenses.

Obama granted pardons to 78 on Monday, bringing the total to 148 throughout his presidency. A pardon means the individual has accepted responsibility and the president has forgiven them. The individual isn’t innocent, but they’re no longer subject to civil consequences such as not being able to vote or hold public office.

As of Monday, a change.org petition urging Obama to commute Kilpatrick’s 28-year sentence on 24 charges related to corruption in office had gained more than 27,000 signatures. The petition argues that Kilpatrick’s sentence is “excessive.”

Kilpatrick should be freed, the petition says, because 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.”

Pardons were granted Monday to Ryan Michael Ashbrook of DeWitt; and Kaseen Lathell Simmons (also known as Ceno Smith) of Detroit, who were both convicted of drug crimes. Also pardoned were Pamela Joy Stokes of Southfield, convicted of making false statements; and Jessica Ann Tyson (also known as Jessica Ann Martin) of Grand Rapids, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

“The mercy that the president has shown his 1,324 (commutation and pardon) recipients is remarkable, but we must remember that clemency is a tool of last resort and that only Congress can achieve the broader reforms needed to ensure over the long run that our criminal justice system operates more fairly and effectively in the service of public safety,” Neil Eggleston, White House counsel to the president, said in a news release Monday.

Barbara McQuade, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said in a statement that her office and the presiding judge “provide input on all petitions for clemency in cases that were prosecuted in our district.”

“Most of the cases in which clemency was granted in our district reduced the sentences for nonviolent drug offenders to achieve a sentence that is proportional to a sentence they would receive today under the Department of Justice's Smart on Crime Initiative,” she said.