Biden grants clemency to 78, including 5 with Tennessee ties

Democratic President Joe Biden has granted clemency to 78 people. Here are the details on five with ties to Tennessee:

Jose Luis Colunga – Juniata, Nebraska

Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana (Eastern District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 240 months of imprisonment, 10-year term of supervised release (July 13, 2010).

Commutation Grant: Sentence commuted to expire on October 26, 2023, leaving intact and in effect the 10-year term of supervised release.

Virgil Goodman, Jr. – Lexington, Tennessee

Offense: Possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute (Western District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 262 months of imprisonment, six-year term of supervised release (June 30, 2005).

Commutation Grant: Sentence commuted to expire on August 24, 2022, leaving intact and in effect the six-year term of supervised release.

Brandon Jermaine Huguley – Chattanooga, Tennessee

Offense: Conspiracy to distribute 280 grams or more of cocaine base (Eastern District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 235 months of imprisonment, five-year term of supervised release (August 20, 2012); amended to 188 months of imprisonment, five-year term of supervised release (May 22, 2017).

Commutation Grant: Sentence commuted to expire on April 26, 2023, with the remainder to be served in home confinement, leaving intact and in effect the five-year term of supervised release.

Bethel Cheyenne Mooneyham – Spencer, Tennessee

Offense: Conspiracy to manufacture and distribute 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine and 500 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing methamphetamine (Eastern District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 240 months of imprisonment, 10-year term of supervised release (June 13, 2011).

Commutation Grant: Sentence to expire on August 24, 2022, leaving intact and in effect the 10-year term of supervised release.

Jesse Alan Trimue – Burton, Michigan

Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 5 grams of actual methamphetamine and 50 grams or more of methamphetamine mixture, a schedule II-controlled substance (Eastern District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 120 months of imprisonment, eight-year term of supervised release (June 6, 2016).

Commutation Grant: Sentence commuted to expire on April 26, 2023, with the remainder to be served in home confinement, leaving intact and in effect the eight-year term of supervised release.

Lee makes clemency annoucements

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is making several executive clemency announcements as the holiday season kicks into high gear.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced executive clemency decisions for 17 offenders who have demonstrated a successful path to rehabilitation and established a new process for individuals seeking clemency for drug-free school zone convictions.

Executive clemency decisions are made in consultation with the Tennessee Board of Parole, which issues non-binding recommendations for each case.

“After reviewing the unique merits of each case, I have made the decision to grant these individuals executive clemency,” said Gov. Lee. “These men and women have shown they are ready for productive lives beyond their sentences, and I appreciate the Board of Parole’s consideration in this process.”

There are three types of executive clemency:

— Exoneration – a finding by the governor that an applicant did not commit the crime for which he or she was convicted

— Pardon – an official statement of forgiveness of an offense, typically granted to an applicant who completed his or her sentence more than 5 years ago and who has demonstrated good cause for forgiveness

— Commutation – a reduction in an applicant’s sentence

Additional information on executive clemency can be found here.

Executive Clemency Grants

Adam Braseel of Grundy County – Executive Action: Exoneration

Brandon Benson of Anderson County – Executive Action: Pardon

Nathaniel Boyd of Shelby County – Executive Action: Pardon

Relerford Brown of Fentress County – Executive Action: Pardon

Charles Diffie of South Carolina – Executive Action: Pardon

Zenobia Dobson of Knox County – Executive Action: Pardon

Michael Graham of Perry County – Executive Action: Pardon

Tina Jackson of Haywood County – Executive Action: Pardon

Eugene Lee of Florida – Executive Action: Pardon

Quantel Lindsey of Georgia – Executive Action: Pardon

Jasbir Mann of Massachusetts – Executive Action: Pardon

Kevin Nunley of Bedford County – Executive Action: Pardon

Charles Sanderfur of Davidson County – Executive Action: Pardon

Kenney Simpson of Sullivan County – Executive Action: Pardon

Mindy Dodd of Rutherford County – Executive Action: Commutation to immediate parole eligibility

Jamie Grimes of Davidson County – Executive Action: Commutation to immediate parole eligibility

Charles Hall of Shelby County – Executive Action: Commutation to parole eligibility upon completing certain programming

Proclamations granting individuals clemency can be viewed here.

Updated Drug-Free School Zone Process

The Governor’s Office and the Tennessee Department of Correction will introduce a new clemency review process for drug-free school zone offenses committed prior to September 1, 2020.

This action follows legislation passed in the 2020 legislative session to reduce the school zone radius to 500 feet and to allow stiffer penalties only where vulnerable populations, such as children, were exposed to illicit drug activity.

The new process will expedite the review of convictions for those sentenced under prior Tennessee law to determine whether they merit consideration for a review of their sentence under the new law. There are currently 335 individuals incarcerated for drug-free school zone offenses committed prior to September 1, 2020.

To qualify, individuals must not have been involved in the sale or distribution to a minor or have incurred a drug-related disciplinary infraction within the past three years, including positive drug screens or dismissal from a treatment program.

Individuals who meet the qualifying criteria may apply here.

Haslam grants final set of 20 pardons, 3 commutations

Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Haslam has granted his final set of clemency orders, issuing 20 pardons and three commutations. That brings his total to of nine commutations, 35 pardons, and one exoneration before he leaves office on Saturday.

Here is the full release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today granted executive clemency to 23 current or former Tennesseans.

“These individuals receiving pardons have made positive contributions to their communities and are worthy of the forgiveness that may help them restore their rights or obtain employment. Those receiving commutations will gain another chance to become contributing members of society,” Haslam said.  “Clemency requires attempting to balance mercy and justice, and my legal team and I have taken this responsibility seriously during a thorough review of many cases.”

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TNJ interview: Haslam discusses Cyntoia Brown decision

Gov. Bill Haslam announces on Nov. 13, 2018, that Amazon will locate its East Coast logistics hub in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in an interview with The Tennessee Journal on Monday discussed how he came to the decision to grant clemency to Cyntoia Brown, who will be released from prison after serving 15 years in August. Brown was sentenced to life in prison for a murder committed as a 16-year-old in 2004, after she had run away from home. She has said she acted in self-defense in shooting the man after she was forced into prostitution. Haslam said celebrity attention to the case led to his office receiving 100,000 calls from Brown’s supporters.

TNJ: How did you arrive at this decision?

Haslam: We have a lot of pardon and clemency requests in front of us, that’s really what I’m spending the majority of my last two weeks doing. So we wanted to be thorough on it. And No. 2, I think the thing that was so unusual about this was that, because it got such an extraordinary amount of publicity, we wanted to make certain we didn’t treat it any better or worse than any other case. We ended up getting 100,000 phone calls, which I think is the most that we’ve gotten on any issue. But while obviously that’s how democracy works, you don’t want to make decisions based on how many phone calls you get. So we wanted to set all that aside and say, what’s the right thing to do in this case? And in this case, it meant talking to everybody from her lawyers, to people who had been involved with her while she was in prison, to counselors who knew her, to try to make certain we were making the best decision.

TNJ: You had various options, you could have said she could have served 15, 20, 25 years or whatever amount of time.

Haslam: We thought about it a lot, and the governor does have incredible powers. You could say, I want her to be out in 15 minutes, or anything. I think you start out with, what’s the right thing to do, and what’s the best thing in her situation. For us, it was 15 years. A lot of people said, if that had happened today, she would have gotten 2nd degree, which would have been 15 to 25 years. And so that was one of the motivations of saying 15 years with 10 years’ probation.

TNJ: With all the celebrity attention, did that make it uncomfortable?

Haslam: There was so many cases that need that kind of review. But so many people follow Kim Kardashian, that if she tweets out ‘call the governor,’ we’re going to get a lot of phone calls. Or if it’s Rihanna, or Snoop Dogg, or whoever. For us it meant an added level of, let’s make certain we’re doing the right thing. And not penalizing because we had all these people calling us — we literally had people who couldn’t call here to get their TennCare dealt with because our phone lines were so full. So you don’t want to penalize her for that, but nor do you want to treat her any more special because 100,000 people called.

TNJ: Do you think there will be a political price to pay if you decide to run for the U.S. Senate in 2020?

Haslam: I honestly don’t know. Obviously there’s a lot of people who think it’s the greatest thing ever and some people who will be upset. I think you’ve got to shove all that aside. It’s part of why, when Corker’s seat came up, I said it’s just not right. Because I didn’t want to spend my last year-and-a-half as governor running for the Senate, and you couldn’t help but let things affect you. And that’s really why I said on this one, I’m not going to spend a lot of time thinking about it until we get out of here.

Haslam grants clemency to Cyntoia Brown

Gov. Bill Haslam has granted executive clemency to Cyntoia Brown, who will be released from prison after serving 15 years in August.

“This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case,” Haslam said.  “Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16.  Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life.  Transformation should be accompanied by hope.  So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”

Brown was sentenced to life in prison for a murder committed as a 16-year-old in 2004. She had run away from home and told the Board of Parole earlier this year that she acted in self-defense in shooting the man after she was forced into prostitution. Without modifications to her sentence, Brown wouldn’t have been eligible for parole until after 51 years in prison. Efforts to free her have drawn the support of celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and LeBron James.

The Board of Parole had split three ways in making their recommendation to Haslam: Chairman Richard Montgomery, a former Republican state lawmaker from Sevierville, and former Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble, a finalist for TBI director, called for her to be granted clemency; Gay Gregson and Zane Duncan said her sentence should be reduced to 25 years, meaning she would serve 11 more years in prison; and Roberta Kustoff, wife of U.S. Rep. David Kustoff (R-Memphis), and former Rep. Barrett Rich (R-Somerville) said clemency should be denied.

“Thank you, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance,” Brown said in a release. “I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me.”

See the full releases from Haslam and Brown after the jump.

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National campaign underway to free Nashville man sent back to federal prison after being released in 2016

More than 50,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the release of Matthew Charles from federal prison, reports WPLN, and the Nashville man’s case is otherwise getting considerable national attention – including a New York Times story suggesting he could be a candidate for clemency granted by President Donald Trump.

Charles was sentenced to 35 years in prison for selling cocaine in 1996, then freed in 2016 under a sentence-reduction program launched by former President Barack Obama – only to be sent back behind bars last week after courts ruled he technically didn’t qualify — though, by all accounts, he has led an exemplary life both while serving time and since his 2016 release.

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Parole board splits on whether Haslam should grant clemency to Cyntoia Brown

The state Board of Paroles split three ways Wednesday in a voting on whether to recommend that Gov. Bill Haslam grant some form of clemency Cyntoia Brown, a Nashville woman serving a life sentence for a murder she committed in 2004 at age 16, reports The Tennessean. The upshot is no clear suggestion to Haslam, who has said he’s aware of the case that has received national attention while giving indication of his inclinations.

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State approves $1 million in reparations for man imprisoned 31 years

Lawrence McKinney, cleared of a rape conviction after spending more than three decades in prison, has become the first person in the state to receive $1 million in reparations from the state, the maximum allowed under Tennessee law, reports WTVF.

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Congressional candidate’s ex-wife asks Haslam for pardon (via email)

Allison Burchett, ex-wife of Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and reportedly a “confidential informant” for the FBI since their 2012 divorce, has asked Gov. Bill Haslam to pardon her conviction for misdemeanor cyber crimes – part of a plea bargain arrangement – before he leaves office next January, reports Cari Wade Gervin.

The request came in a Dec. 13 email that the Nashville Post report says is similar to one sent this week to “dozens if not hundreds of people” by Allison Burchett contending Tim Burchett and others “orchestrated the false accusations” against her. Burchett is currently running for the Republican nomination in the 2nd Congressional District.

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Haslam goes against parole board, exonerates man in 1978 rape conviction

Press release from Gov. Bill Haslam

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today issued the following statement on the exoneration of Lawrence McKinney:

“Today I granted Lawrence McKinney’s request for gubernatorial exoneration from his 1978 convictions. Though the facts of this case are complex and reasonable minds may draw different conclusions from them, ultimately I respect the determinations of the Shelby County Criminal Court and District Attorney General that Mr. McKinney was not guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted and would not have been prosecuted if the DNA testing results had been available at the time of trial. Mr. McKinney was released after more than 30 years in prison when the court set aside his convictions in 2009.

“In the eyes of the judicial system, Mr. McKinney is innocent. While I appreciate the hard work and recommendations of the Board of Parole, in this case I defer to the finding of the court charged with determining Mr. McKinney’s guilt or innocence.”

McKinney, 61, was convicted of rape and burglary in Shelby County. had his record expunged after his release from prison where he spent 31 years.

Further, from The Tennessean:

Although he was out of prison and had his record expunged, McKinney still sought an executive exoneration from the governor to enable him to file for compensation with the Tennessee Board of Claims.

McKinney had the support from state Rep. Mark Pody, Pastor John Hunn of Immanuel Baptist Church in Lebanon and attorneys Jack Lowery and David Raybin in his efforts.

…The Tennessee Board of Parole voted unanimously against recommending exoneration for McKinney in 2016. At the time, at least one parole board member questioned the completeness of the DNA evidence that cleared McKinney. 

The governor is not bound to follow that recommendation and can either grant, deny or choose not to act on an executive clemency request.


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