Washington — President Donald Trump commuted the sentence Wednesday of a woman serving a life sentence for drug offenses whose cause was championed by reality TV star Kim Kardashian West in a recent visit to the White House.
Trump commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, two White House officials said. The 63-year old more than two decades behind bars and is not eligible for parole. The move comes amid a recent flurry of pardons issued by Trump, who has seemed drawn to causes advocated by conservatives, celebrities or those who once appeared on his former reality show, "The Apprentice."
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorised to publicly discuss the commutation before it was announced.
The commutation puts a renewed focus on the Trump administration's push for prison and sentencing reform, but which has sometimes clashed with the president's law-and-order approach, especially at the Justice Department. Indeed, Trump has called for getting tougher on drug dealers, including suggesting some should receive the death penalty.
Johnson was convicted in 1996 on eight criminal counts related to a Memphis-based cocaine trafficking operation involving more than a dozen people. The 1994 indictment describes dozens of deliveries and drug transactions, many involving Johnson.
She was sentenced to life in prison in 1997, and appellate judges and the U.S. Supreme Court have rejected her appeals. Court records show she has a motion pending for a reduction in her sentence, but federal prosecutors are opposed, saying in a court filing that the sentence is in accord with federal guidelines, based on the large quantity of drugs involved. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Memphis did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
A criminal justice advocacy site, CAN-DO, and one of Johnson's attorneys say a request for clemency was rejected by former President Barack Obama. The reasons are unclear.
A 1997 Associated Press story on Johnson's sentencing said she headed up a multimillion-dollar drug ring. But Memphis attorney Michael Scholl, who filed the latest court documents in her request for a sentence reduction, said she was not a leader in the cocaine operation.
"What is the purpose of putting a lady with no prior criminal record, on a nonviolent drug offense, in jail for her entire life?" he said in a telephone interview. "She's a model inmate."
Scholl added that Johnson has admitted her wrongdoing, which is borne out in letters she has written to U.S. District Judge Samuel H. Mays, who now oversees her case.
"Judge Mays I'm writing to you to express my deep remorse for the crime that I committed over 20 years ago. I made some bad choices which have not only affected my life, but have impacted my entire family," she said in a February 2017 letter in the court record.
In a hand-scrawled letter last June she wrote: "I'm a broken woman. More time in prison cannot accomplish more justice."
KIM KARDASHIAN HAS EMOTIONAL CALL WITH PRISONER
Kim visited the White House in May to meet with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, who is overseeing the administration's push to overhaul the nation's prison system. She also met with Trump in the Oval Office, a photograph of which the president released on Twitter.
Responding to the decision, the reality star tweeted: "BEST NEWS EVER."
A lawyer for Kim is describing the moment Alice Johnson found out President Donald Trump had commuted her sentence.
Shawn Holley, who accompanied Kim to the White House last week, says that Kardashian West was the one who told Johnson she was being released in a phone call.
Holley says in a statement that she, "just got off the most wonderful, emotional and amazing phone call with Alice, Kim and Alice's lawyers."
She says that once Johnson's family joined the call, "the tears never stopped flowing."
The phone call I just had with Alice will forever be one of my best memories. Telling her for the first time and hearing her screams while crying together is a moment I will never forget.— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) June 6, 2018
Kim also thanked Trump, Kushner and everyone who showed compassion and contributed countless hours.
"Her commutation is inspirational & gives hope to so many others who are also deserving of a second chance," she wrote on Twitter.
She went on to say, "I hope to continue this important work by working together with organsations who have been fighting the fight for much longer than I and deserve the recognition."