Whitmer grants clemency to 4, including state's 'longest serving non-violent offender'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer granted clemency to four Michigan men Tuesday, including 69-year-old Michael Thompson, who has served 22 years of a 42-60 year sentence stemming from a marijuana sting.

Thompson's charges date back to a December 1994 incident, for which Thompson was charged with three counts of unlawful distribution of marijuana after a drug sting. He served three concurrent 10- to 15-year terms, which lasted the full 15 years, ending in March 2011, prison records show.

The state's offender tracking system lists Thompson's offenses as felony firearm and firearms possession by a felon; the latter charge carries a sentence of 40 to 60 years. But Attorney General Dana Nessel said the guns weren't at the drug deal and were "arguably antiques" stored in a locked gun safe.

Whitmer on Tuesday also pardoned Lawrence Cadroy, who was sentenced in 1999 on drug possession; Lorenzo Garrett, who was sentenced in 1999 for selling drugs; and Larry McGhee, who was sentenced in 2004 for selling drugs. The commutations were the first of the governor's term in office.

“These commutations offer a second chance to four individuals who have accepted responsibility and paid their debts to society and whose sentences span decades for non-violent offenses," Whitmer said. 

Commutations shorten a person's sentence to a specific number of years but don't erase their conviction.

All four individuals were recommended for commutations by the Michigan Parole Board. Their commutations make them eligible for parole immediately. 

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said the eras of the "war on drugs" and being "tough on crime" have gone on too long and fractured families and communities. The current administration has worked to improve the system and level the playing field, he said. 

"We will continue to find ways to provide second chances for everyone, which will make our families, neighborhoods, and communities safer and stronger," Gilchrist said. 

Nessel and talk show host Montel Williams had advocated for Thompson's early release. 

In July, Williams said Thompson was "Michigan's longest serving non-violent offender" and had been take to a hospital with COVID-19 symptoms. 

If committed today, Thompson's offense would be "punishable by a maximum of four years' imprisonment or at most a maximum of eight years' imprisonment If charged as a second drug offense," Nessel said in an August letter supporting Thompson's commutation.

"While technically legal," Nessel said, "the sentence imposed on Mr. Thompson is the product of a different time in Michigan legal history, and it is a time that has passed."

In a statement, the executive director of the public policy nonprofit Safe & Just Michigan praised the governor's move.

"A governor's clemency power is a critical tool for mitigating the harshness of long prison sentences that do not serve the public interest or promote public safety, and we applaud the Governor's use of it here," John Cooper said. "We hope these grants of clemency are the first of many from this administration, as there are many long-serving people in Michigan's prison system who warrant consideration for release but are not currently eligible for parole."