Guy Frank walked out of a Saks Fifth Avenue with two shirts he hadn't paid for in September 2000. On Friday, he walked out of a New Orleans prison a free man, having served 20 years for the crime. WDSU reports an arm of the Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) spotted the now-67-year-old's case, determined it was an unjust sentence, and lobbied the Orleans Parish District Attorney for his release. Frank was charged with one count of theft of goods valued at less than $500, which was a felony at the time. He pleaded guilty to what was his 4th felony, and the DA's office asked that he be considered a multiple offender, because he had been convicted of theft multiple times before. (The Washington Post cites 2002 documents that said he had been arrested 36 times since 1975, though the IPNO says the thefts were always "small amounts.") Judge Sharon Hunter handed him a sentence of 23 years without parole.
A GoFundMe campaign for Frank notes that he "lost his mother, two of his brothers, his wife, and his son while incarcerated, as well as years of his life that he could have spent with them" and has raised $67,000 thus far to support him as he moves forward. He says he plans to become an assistant deacon so that he might help others make good choices. In an Instagram post, the IPNO had this to say: "Mr. Frank’s case gets to the heart of what is wrong with Louisiana's multiple offender law. He received this egregious sentence despite the fact that he was never a threat to anyone, and had never done more than steal in small amounts. His case shows how poor Black people are disproportionately affected by these extreme sentences. It is hard to imagine a White person with resources receiving this sentence for this crime." (Read more New Orleans stories.)