Oklahoma Gov. Fallin approves commutations for some drug offenders
Gov. Mary Fallin commuted the sentences of 14 offenders serving life without parole for nonviolent drug offenses in March, giving many of the inmates hope for a life outside prison walls one day.
Since June 2016, Fallin has approved commutations for 21 offenders serving life without parole for drug-related convictions, or about a third of Oklahoma prison inmates serving such sentences.
Most of the drug offenders' sentences were reduced from life without parole to life with the possibility of parole.
The change might not seem like much, but it gives many inmates hope they someday will be released, said Edmond attorney Debra Hampton, who represents many Oklahoma inmates on pardon and parole issues.
"It makes a huge difference," Hampton said. "Most of them eventually will get out once they start going up for parole."
A change in Oklahoma law in 2015 did away with mandatory life sentencing for drug trafficking after two previous felony drug convictions, but the new law is not retroactive.
There are still 56 inmates in Oklahoma serving life without parole for drug offenses, according to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections inmate database.
Some of the offenders sentenced to life without parole for drug crimes continue to wait for Fallin to approve or deny a commutation.
William Dufries, 59, a former Florida resident who is serving life without parole at North Fork Correctional Center in Sayre, is one such case.
Dufries was convicted of drug trafficking after an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper pulled him over on Interstate 40 in Canadian County for a broken taillight on his recreational vehicle in 2003.
A subsequent search of the vehicle found 67 pounds of marijuana. Dufries claims to have been transporting the marijuana to help pay his medical bills after a series of health problems.
Dufries' case was cited as an example of harsh sentencing laws in the 2013 American Civil Liberties report "A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses." His case has drawn national attention, but no relief in the courts.
“Never going home for a nonviolent crime is just the worst. If I had killed someone or been a child predator, I could understand, but I just don't — it is cruel, ” Dufries told the ACLU.
The Pardon and Parole Board recommended commuting Dufries' sentence in May 2016, but Fallin has yet to act.
There's no time limit for Fallin to act to approve sentence commutations, said DeLynn Fudge, executive director of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.
"When you're in the middle of a legislative session, it may not be the top priority," Fudge said.
At age 76, K.O. Cooper is believed to be the oldest inmate serving life without parole for drug-related crimes who is waiting on a commutation.
Cooper was convicted in 2012 of drug trafficking for selling cocaine out of his home in Enid.
He is currently incarcerated at Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, where many older and sick inmates are held.
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended commuting Cooper's sentence in December, but Fallin has yet to approve it.
Fallin's office did not respond to an inquiry on the status of potential commutations for Cooper and Dufries.
Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›