Bureaucrat Torpedoes Plea for a Presidential Pardon
Posted on May 14, 2012
By Dafna Linzer, ProPublica
When he was busted, police found 869 grams of meth plus nearly $18,000 in cash. He was convicted for possession, with intend to distribute.
Prior refused to cooperate with prosecutors in the Southern District of Iowa. At 46, he received a mandatory life sentence.
Prosecutors in Des Moines vehemently opposed Prior’s commutation request.
According to a copy of the recommendation sent from the pardon attorney to the White House, U.S. Attorney Matthew G. Whitaker wrote that a commutation for Prior “would have a detrimental impact on law enforcement efforts in this community as (Prior) would essentially be rewarded despite his failure to provide full and truthful information about his criminal activity and his associates.”
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This time, he had the support of influential family friends, senior judges and the wife of Iowa’s then-governor. In addition to petitioning through the pardon office, Prior’s lawyer met with Fred Fielding, the White House counsel.
A week later, Prior was ordered freed after 14 years of incarceration.
“Going through the pardons office didn’t work,” said Robert Holliday, the Des Moines lawyer who handled Prior’s case for free.
“Going directly to the White House did.”
Prior, who is writing a memoir, compared his fortune to that of winning a lottery. “When I see those megamillions ticket-buyers, I think about myself sometimes.” Of Aaron, Prior said he hoped President Obama would commute his sentence. “I watched ‘Snitch’ while in prison and remember his case.”
Lee said the White House was persuaded that Prior deserved to be released.
“There was evidence that he had been rehabilitated and adjusted well during his prison sentence,” Lee said. “He seemed to have shown remorse for his actions and was very active in his prison community, helping others out and had been a changed man.”
Aaron remains in a federal penitentiary in Talladega, Ala.
He spent the first dozen years of his sentence at maximum security prisons in Florida and Georgia, where he completed a two-year religious-studies correspondence course through Emory University. He also took courses in microeconomics, Spanish, photography and behavioral development
In 2007, he was transferred to the medium-security facility in Talladega, where he helped bring a new textiles factory online and works as a clerk, assisting the factory accountant.
“A lot of people think I’m crazy, to do self-help programs and stay out of trouble with a sentence like mine,” Aaron said. But “from the first day I walked into the federal prison system, I just continued to better myself and educate myself.”
He’s acutely aware of all the milestones he has missed - family birthdays, his college graduation. In 2005, his younger sister Stephaine died suddenly during radiation treatment for skin cancer. Aaron said he calls her daughters every week.
Bush formally denied Aaron’s request on Dec. 23, 2008. Aaron learned of the decision three weeks later when Rodgers sent formal notification to his attorney.
In April 2010, Aaron submitted a new petition for commutation. It is pending.
“If I was to be granted that commutation,” Aaron said, “the president who backed me wouldn’t regret it, because I would work hard every day to prove my worthiness.”
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