Black man purging his life for stealing hedge mowers

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NEW ORLEANS – A black man sentenced to life for running away with hedge trimmers during a burglary in 1997 drew scathing criticism from the Louisiana Supreme Court chief justice was released on Thursday. The 3-0 vote at an online parole board meeting means freedom, with conditions, for Fair Wayne Bryant.

The Louisiana Supreme Court had denied the release of Bryant, 63, earlier this year for the burglary in a storage room of a carport.

The case attracted national attention for a dissent from Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, the only black judge on the High Court. She said the Habitual Offenders Act under which Bryant was convicted was a “modern manifestation” of the Jim Crow-era laws to jail black people for a simple felony.

Louisiana’s head of the American Civil Liberties Union said the decision was long overdue.

“Now it is imperative that the Legislature repeal the Habitual Offenders Act that allows for these unfair sentences, and that district attorneys statewide immediately stop seeking extreme penalties for minor offenses,” said Alanah Odoms, executive director of the statement group.

Neither the severity of the sentence nor its racial implications were considered by the parole board. The members, two white and one black, focused on Bryant’s extensive arrest record, noting that the 1997 burglary took place in a lived-in dwelling and that he likely would have stolen more if he hadn’t. been surprised and chased away by the owner. They also spoke a lot about her history of alcohol and cocaine use.

“I had a drug problem,” said Bryant, who was represented at the hearing by LSU lawyer and law professor Robert Lancaster. “But I have had 24 years to recognize this problem and to be in constant communication with the Lord to help me with this problem. ”

Council members noted that Bryant, imprisoned at Angola State Penitentiary, had participated in drug and anger management programs in prisons and his lack of recent disciplinary issues before voting to grant release. conditional.

The terms of Bryant’s parole include mandatory attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, and community service. He must first enter a program in Baton Rouge with the Louisiana Parole Project, a nonprofit organization that helps released prisoners adjust to freedom. He will eventually live with his brother in Shreveport.

“He’s got a support system he’s never had,” Andrew Hundley of the Louisiana Parole Project told committee members.

Bryant received a severe sentence after being convicted in 1997 of burglary of a garage storage room at a house in Shreveport.

His record, panel members said, included 22 arrests and 11 convictions. Court records indicated that the convictions included four other crimes: a conviction for attempted armed robbery in 1979, a felony classified as violent under Louisiana law; and three subsequent non-violent crimes – possession of stolen items in 1987, attempted forgery of a $ 150 check in 1989, and simple burglary in 1992.

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