Appellate Practice

ProPublica Eyes Role of DOJ Pardon Atty in Nixing Release of First-Time Offender Serving LIfe

Even the prosecutor’s office and the sentencing judge who put Clarence Aaron behind bars for three life terms, due to his role in a cocaine deal, were in favor of an immediate commutation of his sentence, back when President George W. Bush was in office.

But Aaron, a first-time offender found guilty of abetting a drug conspiracy, though he didn’t buy, sell or supply the drug, didn’t see his controversial sentence cut short. And that may be because their views about Aaron weren’t accurately conveyed to the White House by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, ProPublica reports. The office is a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice charged with reviewing such commutation and pardon requests.

The article describes attorney Kenneth Lee, who handled the Aaron case for the White House, as “aghast” when he was shown what the judge and prosecutor actually said, in written statements, versus the pardon attorney’s summary.

“This case was such a close call,” said Lee, telling ProPublica he would have urged the president to commute if he had seen the statements. “We had been asking the pardons office to reconsider it all year. We made clear we were interested in this case.”

The pardon attorney, Ronald Rodgers, declined to comment about why he had recommended against a commutation for Aaron. A spokeswoman for his office said that “every clemency request—whether it be for commutation of sentence or for pardon—is considered carefully and thoroughly by the Office of the Pardon Attorney.”

Related coverage: “Convicted of First Offense, ‘Grandma’ Is Serving Federal Life Term Without Parole”

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