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Black Louisiana man in jail for 20 years over attempted theft granted parole

Black Louisiana man in jail for 20 years over attempted theft granted parole
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A Black man who was serving a life sentence in prison for trying to steal hedge clippers over 20 years ago was granted parole on Thursday, according to NBC News

The Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole voted to release 63-year-old Fair Wayne Bryant, according to records after the state’s Supreme Court declined to review his sentence. He walked out of prison later that day, his attorney said. 

Alanah Odoms, executive director of the Louisiana American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that the decision is a “long-overdue victory for Bryant, his family, and the cause of equal justice for all.” 

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“Now it is imperative that the Legislature repeal the habitual offender law that allows for these unfair sentences,” Odoms said. “And for district attorneys across the state to immediately stop seeking extreme penalties for minor offenses.”

Bryant was convicted of attempted simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling in 1997 for entering a carport in Shreveport, La., and trying to steal a pair of hedge clippers. Since it was his fifth felony conviction, prosecutors invoked habitual offender laws that resulted in a life sentence without parole. However, three of his previous four felonies were nonviolent. 

The case made its way back to the Louisiana Supreme Court earlier this year via a 2018 appeal that argued that Bryant was illegally sentenced and should have been appointed legal counsel during a re-sentencing hearing. 

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The latest appeal was also rejected by the higher court, and Bernette Johnson, chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, wrote a fiery dissent over the decision. 

Johnson — the court's only Black justice — said that the state's habitual offender laws are a “modern manifestation” of the “Pig Laws," that are unjust and were widely used during Reconstruction to continue the oppression of Black people in the American South.

"Since his conviction in 1997, Mr. Bryant’s incarceration has cost Louisiana taxpayers approximately $518,667.  Arrested at 38, Mr. Bryant has already spent nearly 23 years in prison and is now over 60 years old," Johnson wrote. "If he lives another 20 years, Louisiana taxpayers will have paid almost one million dollars to punish Mr. Bryant for his failed effort to steal a set of hedge clippers."