In 1979, Louisiana man Fair Wayne Bryant was involved in a robbery in which his accomplice shot a taxi driver. But the crime that put him away for life was the 1997 theft of a pair of hedge clippers, for which he has served 23 years and counting. The Louisiana Supreme Court has rejected the 61-year-old's request for a review of his life-without-parole sentence, which was issued under habitual offender laws, the Washington Post reports. The only dissenter was Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, the court's only Black justice, who likened the harsh sentence to the "Pig Laws" introduced during Reconstruction, which brought in extremely harsh penalties for petty theft as a way to "re-enslave African Americans," she wrote, per NPR.
Bryant, who is Black, is serving his life sentence at the Angola maximum-security prison. "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." Bryant had four previous felony convictions, but the 1979 conviction was the only violent one, she noted. He was convicted of possessing stolen property in 1987, attempted forgery of a $150 check in 1989, and the burglary of a home in 1992. "Each of these crimes was an effort to steal something," Johnson wrote. "Such petty theft is frequently driven by the ravages of poverty or addiction, and often both." The life sentence, she said, is "grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose." (More Louisiana stories.)