Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley asks for some relief.
Michael Thompson, 69, Neeley’s uncle, has spent more than two decades behind bars after being sentenced in 1996 to 42 to 60 years in prison on a gun-related drug charge.
“Today I am calling for clemency and justice,” Neeley said in a public hearing Tuesday, Nov. 17, to discuss the potential commutation of the remainder of Thompson’s sentence.
Recalling days gone by when Thompson took him and others to a local park, Neeley pointed out that his uncle had served 25 years for a non-violent offense.
“I want to be able to have coffee, play chess with my uncle,” Neeley said. “Justice and mercy must take place. “
Thompson’s conviction came after he sold three pounds of marijuana to a confidential informant in 1994.
Speaking during the more than two-hour public hearing, Thompson said he had been friends with the informant for about five years.
He said he had sold drugs in the past – from cocaine in the 1970s to the transition to marijuana in the 1990s – to help pay his bills and support his family while occupying a job as a truck driver for an automobile company.
Executing search warrants on Flint and Grand Blanc’s homes after his arrest, police found more than a dozen guns which led to gun felony charges because he was a criminal sentenced.
The charges included three drug-related charges – possession with intent to sell; conspiracy of possession with intent to sell; and the sale of marijuana – and two weapons charges.
A plea that had been made by Thompson to have three charges dropped was dismissed by the judge. As part of the rejected deal, Thompson said he would only go to jail for two years.
Thompson was tried and was found guilty of all five counts. He served his sentence for drug offenses, but remains jailed on gun felony charges.
Thompson’s defenders said most of the guns were antiques. Thompson said at the hearing that he had accumulated the weapons over a period of more than two years, but they had been hidden.
Kimberly Kendall Corral, Thompson’s lawyer, called the sentence “serious” in nature.
While Thompson had four prior convictions on his record, Corral said the disproportionate punishment was based on possession of guns he was peacefully holding but was linked to the commission of the drug offense.
She argued that the situation was an aberration of Thompson’s character and shouldn’t define who he is now.
Timothy S. Flanagan, a Michigan Parole Board member who conducted the hearing, noted that Thompson only had one fault in his criminal record.
“You are obviously not a management problem in the facility,” said Flanagan.
Corral was one of more than a dozen of Thompson’s supporters at the hearing, ranging from lawyers to family members and marijuana advocates from Michigan to California.
Thompson’s daughter Rashawnda Littles called her father a “great man” who helped people avoid violence in the past as well as during their incarceration.
A surge of support has grown for Thompson’s case in recent years after he gained national attention, with some celebrities calling for his release as well as a social media campaign, #FreeMichaelThompson.
In August Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel sent a letter to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who was read aloud during the hearing, in support of the commutation of the remainder of Thompson’s sentence.
The letter urging the governor to take the step reads in part: “Mr. Thompson was unlucky enough to have been convicted of drug offenses at a time when draconian drug laws were prevalent in the country. Michigan, including one that not only authorized but imposed a life sentence without parole for drug offenses involving more than 650 grams of controlled substances. “
She added that, in view of Thompson’s previous offenses which made him a habitual offender, “left the trial judge with virtually unlimited discretion to convict Mr. Thompson.”
The earliest Thompson would be eligible for parole in April 2038, Nessel said, which would make him 87 years old.
As some pointed out at the hearing, Genesee County District Attorney David Leyton also became counsel on Thompson’s behalf.
“I was not the elected prosecutor at the time but what I can say based on my review of the case almost 25 years later is that the sentence handed down by the judge certainly appears to be disproportionate by report to the crime committed, ”Leyton said. in an April press release.
Thompson’s sentence seems harsh, Leyton said, including even previous convictions, which the judge did.
Leyton said the sentence “goes against the interests of justice and fairness,” which is why he decided to join Thompson’s attorney in his request for a pardon.
Thompson, who was recently diagnosed and treated after contracting COVID-19, brought tears to his eyes after listening to the plethora of support.
“I just hope the Parole Board will look at my institutional record and look at the things (that I have done) since I’ve been in jail,” Thompson said of the programs he has participated in and helped create for. mentor others. “What I did before I got to jail … I’m far from it.”
No immediate decision was taken after Tuesday’s public hearing.
A transcript of the public hearing should be generated prior to the parole board meeting on the situation, decide on its recommendation, and forward it to the governor’s office for review.
Any recommendation from the parole board is non-binding, with final approval of a possible commutation of Thompson’s sentence requiring the governor’s approval.