Trump commutes life sentence of Memphis grandmother after plea from Kim Kardashian

Memphis grandmother released from prison, sentence commuted
Published: Jun. 6, 2018 at 3:51 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 6, 2018 at 10:08 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - President Donald Trump commuted the sentence of a Memphis grandmother jailed on drug charges.

Alice Marie Johnson, 63, already served 21 years of her life sentence. 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.

It was Johnson's first time being convicted of a crime.

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.

The White House released the following statement on the president's decision:

"While this Administration will always be very tough on crime, it believes that those who have paid their debt to society and worked hard to better themselves while in prison deserve a second chance."

Johnson 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."

Kardashian West 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.

In an interview with Mic released earlier this year, Kardashian West said she'd been moved by Johnson's story after seeing a video by the news outlet on Twitter.

"I think that she really deserves a second chance at life," Kardashian told Mic. "I'll do whatever it takes to get her out."

Johnson was released from prison Wednesday afternoon.

"I heard Kim Kardashian's voice, and she was the one that told me that it happened. That I was free. I was going to join my family," Johnson said.

Kardashian, who Johnson calls her angel, saw her story and went to the White House to ask President Trump to commute the 63-year-old Memphian's sentence, pointing out the crime was a non-violent drug crime.

"This is the greatest day of my life. My heart is just bursting with gratitude with what has taken place," Johnson said. "I'm going to pull off my shoes and shout all over Memphis. There going to have to catch me for running."

Johnson also said she can't wait to get a job when she gets back to Memphis and embrace the community who supported her.

Copyright 2018 WMC Action News 5 and the Associated Press. All rights reserved.