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Gov. Lee grants clemency to 16 people

NASHVILLE (AP) – Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday granted clemency to 16 people, including two inmates who will be eligible for parole.

In the Republican’s second round of clemency actions since taking office in 2019, Lee approved 13 pardons and three commutations, including the elimination of parole restrictions for one 78-year-old man who has been out of prison for 18 years.

Fourteen of the 16 are no longer in prison, according to Lee’s office.

Lee also issued expedited parole eligibility to 30 people in prison related to changes to a drug-free school zones law. The adjustments came amid concerns that the old law had spurred some overly harsh sentences for infractions that didn’t actually put children at risk.

A pardon serves as a statement of forgiveness to someone who has completed their prison sentence, while commutation shortens a sentence but lets the conviction stand. This time, Lee didn’t issue any exonerations, in which the governor declares that the applicant didn’t commit the crime. Lee noted that the 16 new actions aligned with nonbinding recommendations from the state Board of Parole, with no victims speaking in opposition.

Tabatha White of Nashville, who now becomes eligible for parole, earlier this month received a bachelor’s degree from Lipscomb University while incarcerated, and more than 50 people have supported her parole application, Lee’s chief legal counsel, Erin Merrick, told reporters. White has suffered two strokes while in prison and is seeking additional medical attention, Merrick added.

White was convicted of first-degree murder and received a life sentence for a 2000 fatal shooting, during which another person was the shooter.

Merrick noted that White’s conviction was overturned on appeal, but reinstated in a split decision. One parole board member said “the justice system erred in the overall disposition of the severity of the punishment” in White’s case, Merrick said.

Alicia Williams from Nashville also received parole eligibility. She was 22 when sentenced with no prior record, has served most of her sentence and has completed dozens of training and self-improvement programs, Merrick said. She is working on business plans for a youth center.

Williams, 35, was convicted of second-degree murder in 2012 and received a 20-year sentence. Her sentence ends in mid-2027, state records show.

The decisions mean the parole board will hold normal hearings, with no guarantee of parole.

Meanwhile, 78-year-old William Mee from Meigs County will no longer live under parole limitations. Mee, a barber who has mentored young people, has been living in his community on parole since 2004 and has had no violations while in prison or on parole, Merrick said. He was convicted of first-degree murder in 1981.

Lee also issued 13 pardons.

They include Jimmy Lee Clausel of Hardin County; Jacqueline Clements of Hamilton County; Tara Duncan-Rodriguez of Hamilton County; Najeeb Farhat of Knox County; Randy Fleming of Williamson County; Ryan Herron of Warren County and Dekalb County; Kimberly Kerby of Shelby County; Jason Moore of Rutherford County; James Norris of Warren County; Randy Pool of Crockett County; Audria Reeves of Chester County; Stephen Robinson of Hardeman County; and Aaron Dewayne Vaught of Bradley County.

Thirty others were granted expedited parole eligibility to line up with the 2020 law on drug-free school zones. The change reduced the size to 500 feet from the previous 1,000-foot zones for schools, parks, and similar areas. The new law removed a mandatory minimum prison sentence, which had applied whether children were around or the infraction happened in someone’s home. Instead, the new law lets judges decide if vulnerable people were impacted by illegal drug activity and a stiffer sentence is warranted.

Lee said all 30 would have been parole eligible if they had been sentenced under the new law. Those granted the eligibility won’t be released immediately and will have normal parole hearings.

Lee said more people could later be similarly granted the expedited parole eligibility.

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