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Monday 20 May 2019

Kardashian-backed drug offender thanks Trump for ‘having mercy’

Alice Johnson saw her first sunrise in years at home in Memphis, Tennessee.

Alice Marie Johnson, left, and her daughter Katina Marie Scales wait to start a TV interview (Adrian Sainz/AP)
Alice Marie Johnson, left, and her daughter Katina Marie Scales wait to start a TV interview (Adrian Sainz/AP)

By Adrian Sainz and Jill Colvin, Associated Press

A woman whose life sentence was commuted by US President Donald Trump has thanked him for “having mercy” and said reality TV star Kim Kardashian West saved her life.

After flexing his clemency powers once again, Mr Trump tweeted: “Good luck to Alice Johnson. Have a wonderful life!”

And “BEST NEWS EVER!!!!” was the exuberant Twitter response from Kardashian West, who visited the White House last week to press the case.

Johnson, 63, spent more than two decades serving life without parole.

She was released hours after the White House announced that Mr Trump had commuted her sentence, running to greet her family with her arms open wide for a group hug outside the federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama.

On Thursday morning, she saw her first sunrise in years at home in Memphis, Tennessee.

“I’d like to say, President Trump, thank you for having mercy upon me. Thank you for taking the time to look at my case, and feel like I deserve a second chance in life. I promise I will not let you down,” Johnson said in an Associated Press interview.

As for Kardashian West, Johnson said: “Kim, I love you. Thank you. You have literally saved my life. I’ll never forget what you have done, not only for me, but for my family.”

Johnson has a job lined up as an administrative assistant in a dental office, but she said she will keep pushing for sentencing reform for non-violent first-time offenders who do not pose a threat to their communities.

Unlike a pardon, the commutation will not erase Johnson’s conviction, only end her sentence.

Mr Trump’s decision, his latest inspired by a celebrity champion, comes amid a flurry of recent pardons he has issued.

He said he is considering a long list of other clemency actions, including former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who is serving 14 years in prison for corruption, and celebrity homemaker Martha Stewart, who served about five months on charges connected to an insider trading case.

Working outside the pardon process usually overseen by the Justice Department, Mr Trump has appeared to favour cases championed by friends, celebrities or conservative media, or involving people he sees as rivals.

Mr Trump has also been drawn to cases in which he believes prosecutors may have been motivated by politics – situations that may remind him of his own predicament at the centre of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling.

Mr Trump recently pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who was convicted of a campaign finance violation.

And he granted a posthumous pardon to boxing’s first black heavyweight champion, a case championed by actor Sylvester Stallone.

The federal prosecutor who oversaw Stewart’s case in New York was James Comey, one of Mr Trump’s principal antagonists, and the man he fired as FBI director last year.

Some have seen the pardons as sending a message to former campaign aides now ensnared in the Mueller probe or other legal inquiries, including Mr Trump’s longtime lawyer and legal “fixer” Michael Cohen, whose finances are under federal investigation.

Indeed, the wife of former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts, appeared on Fox News this week to lobby her husband’s case.

“I trust and hope and ask to President Trump to pardon him,” Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos told Mr Trump’s favourite network.

Mr Trump is looking at cases where he can bring “relief to folks who he feels have been treated unfairly, a term the president uses frequently to describe many different situations”, top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said.

Shawn Holley, Kardashian West’s lawyer who accompanied her to the White House, said the reality star broke the good news on Wednesday in “the most wonderful, emotional and amazing phone call with Alice, Kim and Alice’s lawyers”.

“Once Alice’s family joined the call, the tears never stopped flowing,” Mr Holley said in a statement.

Kardashian West, on Twitter, said: “Telling her for the first time and hearing her screams while crying together is a moment I will never forget.”

A White House statement said Johnson “has accepted responsibility for her past behaviour” and had been a model prisoner, working hard to rehabilitate herself and serve as a mentor to fellow inmates.

Johnson was convicted in 1996 on eight criminal counts related to a Memphis-based cocaine trafficking operation involving more than a dozen people.

The 1994 indictment describes dozens of deliveries and drug transactions, many involving Johnson.

Federal courts including the Supreme Court rejected her appeals.

Prosecutors opposed a pending reduction in her sentence, citing federal guidelines based on the large quantity of drugs involved.

Press Association

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