A black Louisiana man who was sentenced to life in prison after stealing hedge clippers in 1997 was granted parole Thursday.
Fair Wayne Bryant, 63, will get a conditional release following a 3-0 vote of the Louisiana Committee on Parole that comes after he spent 23 years behind bars for the theft of the garden tools from a carport storage room in Shreveport.
The case drew national attention earlier this year when a state Supreme Court panel denied his release despite a dissenting opinion from the court’s only black justice, who called the case a “modern manifestation” of Jim Crow laws.
“These laws remained on the books of most southern states for decades,” Chief Justice Bernette Johnson wrote, according to The Guardian. “And this case demonstrates their modern manifestation: harsh habitual offender laws that permit a life sentence for a black man convicted of a property crime.”
“This man’s life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of three hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose,” the judge wrote.
Johnson also noted that taxpayers had spent nearly $519,000 to keep Bryant locked up — and would dole out nearly $1 million if he were to stay in prison for another 20 years.
Bryant received the harsh sentence because he was convicted as a habitual offender. His record lists 22 arrests and 11 convictions, among them four felonies that included an attempted armed robbery in 1979.
But he told the parole panel that he struggled with alcohol and cocaine abuse at the time and had cleaned up his act in prison.
“I had a drug problem,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “But I’ve had 24 years to recognize that problem and to be in constant communication with the Lord to help me with that problem.”
The decision to parole him was heralded by civil rights activists.
“Now it is imperative that the legislature repeal the habitual offender law that allows for these unfair sentences,” said Alanah Odoms, executive director of the Louisiana ACLU. “And for district attorneys across the state to immediately stop seeking extreme penalties for minor offenses.”
The conditions of Bryant’s parole require him to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, carries a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, and community service.
With Post wires
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