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'Stolen Hedge Clipper' Case Takes a Turn

Fair Wayne Bryant leaves prison after 23 years
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 18, 2020 1:30 PM CDT

(Newser) – A Louisiana man is no longer serving life for trying to steal hedge clippers. State officials granted Fair Wayne Bryant parole Thursday in a 3-0 vote after his case drew widespread attention—and a scathing rebuke from a Louisiana high court justice, the New York Times reports. "Mr. Bryant was given a second chance today," said Bryant's lawyer at his parole hearing. "His life sentence, a result of an oppressive habitual sentencing scheme, came after a series of minor pecuniary crimes to fuel an untreated drug addiction. He was sentenced to a life in prison instead of given the help he needed." Parole board members acknowledged that Bryant's past felony convictions—only one of which was violent—resulted from his problems with drug addiction, per the Advocate.

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"There's no question in my mind that your heart and head are in the right place," a board member said before voting. "We just want you to remain clean and sober. We don't want you to come back." Critics have been taking aim at Bryant's 1997 sentence under a Louisiana habitual offender law. The state's Supreme Court declined to review it, but the panel's sole dissenter, Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, compared the law to statutes imposed after Reconstruction that "criminalized" emancipated Blacks "by introducing extreme sentences for petty theft associated with poverty." Changes to the law now forbid a life sentence for a fourth nonviolent conviction. Bryant, who is Black, will still serve his sentence outside of prison. Any criminal conviction could send him back. (Read more about his case.)

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