After appeal by Kim Kardashian West, Donald Trump pardons grandma who was locked up for life over drugs
Alice Marie Johnson, 63, was convicted in 1996 of drug trafficking and money laundering and sentenced to life in prison — even though it was her first offence
US President Trump on Wednesday pardoned a Tennessee grandmother serving a life sentence for cocaine trafficking — after hearing a plea from reality television star Kim Kardashian West in an Oval Office meeting.
Alice Marie Johnson, who turned 63 last week, had her life sentence commuted after 22 years in prison, according to the Can-Do Foundation, a group that advocated for her release.
Johnson was convicted in 1996 of five counts of drug trafficking and one count of money laundering and sentenced to life in prison — despite the fact that it was her first offence.
Johnson’s plea for clemency was denied by President Barack Obama before he left office in January 2017, despite an initiative aimed at freeing drug offenders serving long mandatory minimum sentences. Case files are not public, so it’s unclear why Obama found her petition undeserving.
But a long list of officials — members of Congress, a US attorney and even the warden at her prison — have asked that Johnson’s case be reconsidered.
“At 63 years old I am closer to heaven than to Earth,” Johnson wrote the judge in her case last year. “I’m a broken woman. More time in prison cannot accomplish more justice.”
Trump has taken a much different approach to presidential pardon power than his predecessor.
While Obama took recommendations from the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, Trump has bypassed that process to grant pardons in high-profile cases like former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio; Scooter Libby, an aide to former Vice-President Dick Cheney; and the late boxing legend Jack Johnson.
Johnson received a rare posthumous pardon last month, after another actor — Sylvester Stallone of Rocky fame — championed his case.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2018
Commutations are a form of pardon that can shorten a prison sentence while leaving the other consequences of a conviction intact.
Kardashian West got involved in Alice Johnson’s case after she was profiled in a viral Facebook video last year. And she also has connections to the White House: her husband, rapper Kanye West, is a well-known Trump supporter.
The celebrity daughter of a defence lawyer — Robert Kardashian, who represented O.J. Simpson in his 1995 murder trial — Kardashian West brought her own high-powered lawyer to the White House Wednesday. Shawn Holley has represented celebrity clients like Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Ritchie.
They met Wednesday with White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, who has taken on prison reform as a signature issue.
The Can-Do Foundation, which advocates shorter sentences for non-violent drug offenders, had put Johnson at the top of its list of federal prisoners most deserving of a presidential commutation.
Amy Povah, herself a former federal inmate who started the Can-Do Foundation after President Bill Clinton commuted her sentence in 2000, said Johnson’s case was just one of many who deserve similar presidential mercy.
“But today is about Alice Johnson, and we are elated the Kim Kardashian has done what others have not,” she said.
“She has used her celebrity status to lift up a specific case of injustice and give Alice the spotlight her case deserves. Hopefully, there will be more to come in the future.”