The Washington Post is reporting this week on the story of Carence Aaron, a 23-year-old student who was sentenced to three concurrent life sentences after being convicted of conspiring to distribute crack cocaine — despite the fact that he did not buy, sell or supply the drugs and didn't have a previous criminal record. Of all those involved in the case, Aaron received the stiffest sentence.
His case understandably got the attention of lawmakers, civil rights activists and the media, and even the prosecutor's office and the sentencing judge supported an immediate commutation. Still, the Bush administration denied Aaron's application. Why?
Officials reportedly never knew about the consensus that he should be pardoned, because this information was compiled in a confidential Justice Department review. The story — which could end with Aaron dying in prison if nothing is done — has many taking a closer look at the workings of the pardon office.
The Washington Post reports:
That Aaron joined the long line of rejected applicants illuminates the extraordinary, secretive powers wielded by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, the branch of the Justice Department that reviews commutation requests. Records show that Ronald Rodgers, the current pardon attorney, left out critical information in recommending that the White House deny Aaron’s application. In a confidential note to a White House lawyer, Rodgers failed to accurately convey the views of the prosecutor and judge and did not disclose that they had advocated for Aaron’s immediate commutation.
Kenneth Lee, the lawyer who shepherded Aaron’s case on behalf of the White House, was aghast when ProPublica provided him with original statements from the judge and prosecutor to compare with Rodgers’s summary. Had he read the statements at the time, Lee said, he would have urged Bush to commute Aaron’s sentence.
“This case was such a close call,” Lee said. “We had been asking the pardons office to reconsider it all year. We made clear we were interested in this case.”
The work of the pardon office has come under heightened scrutiny since December, when ProPublica and The Washington Post published stories showing that, from 2001 to 2008, white applicants were nearly four times as likely to receive presidential pardons as minorities. The pardon office, which recommends applicants to the White House, is reviewing a new application from Aaron. Without a commutation, he will die in prison.
Read more at the Washington Post.