WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) — President Donald Trump this week granted clemency to Charles Duke Tanner, a former professional boxer from Gary, Indiana who was initially sentenced to life in prison for drug conspiracy.
The president issued the executive grant of clemency on Wednesday for Tanner, who was 24 years old when he was arrested and convicted on the charges. It was his first conviction and it was for a nonviolent offense, but still, Tanner was sentenced to life in prison.
The sentence was later reduced to 30 years, the State of Indiana said.
Tanner worked to turn his life around immediately after his arrest – focusing on educational courses and completing hundreds of hours of educational programming. Tanner also received staff recommendation and warden approval for an 18-month reentry program that requires recommendation from staff and approval from the Warden for participation.
Tanner was an undefeated light heavyweight boxer who had been in a televised fight on ESPN at the time of his arrest.
“First and foremost, I would like to say how blessed and thankful to God I am,” Tanner said in the Indiana state news release. “Eddie and I have been talking for a long time about what we could do for our community, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to begin working on those plans. To have him with me on this day is amazing. I’m super grateful at being granted clemency by the President of the United States, and I’m looking forward to what’s to come. I feel like my story is a win-win. I had all this talent, but I messed up. Still, you always have to get back up and do something about it. Even when you fall down, you have to get back up and keep pushing. That’s the model we’ll be pushing in Gary and, hopefully, in other cities and states.”
Indiana state Sen. Eddie Melton (D-Gary) has been working for several years with the Trump administration to get Tanner released.
“This is an absolute blessing, and we give God all the glory,” Sen. Melton said in the release. “I’ve spoken with Charles almost every other week, and it feels surreal to actually be on my way to pick him up and take him home. My brother, Troy Bly, and so many others have worked alongside me these past few years to see this reality come to pass. We are all beyond grateful that Tanner has finally been granted the freedom that he has worked hard to show he deserves.
Troy Bly, Tanner’s manager, added in the release: “This couldn’t happen to a more deserving person. Even after a life sentence, Duke never stopped fighting and now he was able to receive clemency. We can’t wait to get back to the community and help as many people as possible. This is just the beginning, and we’ll continue fighting to bring as many of our people as possible back from prison.”
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Tanner was one of five people to whom President Trump granted clemency Wednesday. They were all convicted of committing drug and financial crimes, and their cases were all pushed by prison reform advocate and Trump ally Alice Johnson.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday in a statement that President Trump was granting the clemencies “in light of the decisions these individuals have made following their convictions to improve their lives and the lives of others while incarcerated.”
The latest round of clemencies comes less than two weeks before Election Day and as President Trump has been hammering Democrat Joe Biden over his tough-on-crime record during his time in the U.S. Senate. Biden, as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, helped shepherd the 1994 crime bill that many criminal justice experts say contributed to harsh sentences and mass incarceration of Black people.
President Trump has granted to pardons to 27 people and clemency to 16 others since taking office. Former President Barack Obama, whom Biden served as vice president, granted pardons 22 and clemency to one person during his first term in office, according Justice Department data.
Johnson, in an interview, said that she spoke to White House officials about all five of the individuals cases and others whose clemency she’s backing during a White House visit last month.
“I’m extremely thankful these clemencies were granted,” said Johnson, a Black woman whose life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense was commuted in 2018 by President Trump. The president was lobbied to act on Johnson’s case by celebrity Kim Kardashian West. “To see this dream realized, I can’t even describe it.”
Johnson, who praised President Trump as a compassionate leader during the Republican National Convention, received a full pardon from President Trump in August and has been advocating for clemency for several men and women she said ”have served their time and have learned from their mistakes.”
The White House declined to comment on Johnson’s lobbying on behalf of those who were granted clemency.
The others who received clemency were:
— Lenora Logan, who spent about 20 years in prison for her role in a cocaine conspiracy. During her time in prison, Logan served as a suicide watch companion, a nursing assistant for fellow prisoners in hospice care, and a leader of the praise and worship team. She was also credited with coming to the aid of a Bureau of Prisons nurse who was under assault by an unstable inmate, according to the White House.
— Rashella Reed, a former Atlanta Public Schools teacher, who spent six years in prison for wire fraud and money laundering, for taking part in a public benefits fraud scheme. Reed used her teaching background to tutor inmates and advance children’s programs while incarcerated.
— John Bolen, a small business owner who used his boat to transport cocaine from the Bahamas to Florida, was more than 13 years into a sentence of life imprisonment. The White House said Bolen was described by Bureau of Prison officials as a “model inmate.” He completed more than 1,300 hours of educational programming and vocational training, multiple re-entry programs, and has served as a suicide companion and a mental health companion.
— Curtis McDonald, 70, was a co-conspirator of Johnson’s in a Memphis drug ring. McDonald was about 24 years into a life prison sentence for drug trafficking and money laundering. McDonald maintained employment during his time incarcerated, and completed several education courses. McDonald has also served in the Mentors for Life program.
“He made a mistake, a bad mistake like I did, but it should not be a life sentence,” Johnson tweeted earlier this month about McDonald’s case.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CBS News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)