A black man in Louisiana who was in jail for stealing hedge trimmers more than two decades ago was granted parole months after the state Supreme Court refused to review his sentence.
The Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole voted Thursday to release Fair Wayne Bryant, 63. He left prison later that day after spending more than 20 years in Angola State Prison, his lawyer said.
Bryant will be participating in a program in Baton Rouge to help prisoners adjust to life after they are released. After all, he is allowed to live with his brother in Shreveport.
On parole, Bryant will have a curfew, attend anonymous alcoholic meetings, and do community service.
The Louisiana American Civil Liberties Union described the board̵
Bryant was 38 years old when he was arrested in January 1997 for taking a pair of clippers from a carport storage room in a Shreveport house. The homeowner was made aware of the theft and Bryant was chased away.
That same year, a jury convicted him of attempting simple break-in into an occupied apartment, and Bryant, who had previously been convicted, was sentenced to life in prison for being considered an “ordinary” offender under state law.
Bryant argued in previous appeals that his verdict was “unconstitutionally harsh”. However, in July the state’s Supreme Court declined to review its ruling. A court spokesman told NBC News in August that five of the court’s seven judges, all white men, had denied his motion for no reason.
A judge, Scott Crichton, has withdrawn from the case while Chief Justice Bernette Johnson wrote in a dissent that his verdict was “exaggerated”.
“This man’s life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of hedge trimmers is bogus crime and serves no legitimate criminal purpose,” wrote Johnson, comparing them to post-Reconstruction laws, the harsh sentences theft in connection with poverty was made mandatory for young children.
She said these laws were “largely intended to re-enslave African Americans” and “undoubtedly contribute to the expansion of the black prison population that began in the 1870s”.
“And this case shows its modern manifestation: strict habitual offender laws that allow life imprisonment for a black convicted of property crimes,” wrote Johnson.
Bryant had been convicted on multiple occasions in the past, including possession of stolen items, simple break-in, and attempted forgery. His only violent conviction, as the chief judge stated in her dissent, was the armed robbery in 1979.
Neither the gravity of Bryant’s verdict nor its racial ramifications were raised during Thursday’s parole committee. The board members, two white and one black, found that Bryant had been arrested more than 20 times and had 11 previous convictions.
They also said that he participated in drug and anger management programs while in detention and has had no recent disciplinary problems.
Bryant told the panel that he had a drug problem, but said that while he was in prison, he “could see this problem and be in constant communication with the Lord to help me with this problem”.
His attorney, Robert Lancaster, said he hoped his client’s case shows the laws for habitual offenders need to change.
“Because of his history of petty crimes to incite drug addiction, Mr. Bryant was sentenced to life in prison instead of receiving the help he needed to recover from his drug addiction,” Lancaster said in a statement for 24 years in prison he got a second chance. “