In 1989, Larry Ronald Duke tried to buy 4,800 pounds of marijuana in the Atlanta area.
Duke, who may have had a bong the size of a corn silo, bought the weed from a government informant.
He was convicted on two lengthy charges — conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute in excess of 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and attempted possession with the intent to distribute in excess of 1,000 kilograms of marijuana.
Even longer than the names of his crimes was his punishment — two life sentences.
Earlier in life, Duke was a decorated Marine who served two tours in Vietnam. He returned from the war and became a carpenter, inventor, and, according to court documents, a weed distributor with a farm in Bartow County.
Duke, now 66, has served 24 years in prison for a non-violent crime. He is currently housed in the Jesup Federal Correctional Institution in southeast Georgia. While incarcerated, he obtained a federal patent for a clean water-delivery system.
Buying that much marijuana isn’t a petty crime, but plenty of criminals will die in prison for committing non-violent crimes.
A recently released report by the American Civil Liberties Union titled “A Living Death” provides details.
Examples of those serving life sentences for non-violent crimes include:
The ACLU report has a map detailing many other cases.
The Guardian points out many of the life sentences were handed down because the criminal had a history of minor drug convictions.
“The offenses involved can be startlingly petty. Drug cases itemized in the report include a man sentenced to die in prison for having been found in possession of a crack pipe; an offender with a bottle cap that contained a trace of heroin that was too small to measure; a prisoner arrested with a trace amount of cocaine in their pocket too tiny to see with the naked eye; a man who acted as a go-between in a sale to an undercover police officer of marijuana – street value $10,” writes The Guardian.
A reporter for The Guardian tried to speak with the jacket thief, Timothy Jackson, who is incarcerated in Louisiana. Prison officials rejected the interview by saying it might upset Jackson’s victim, a department store.
Jackson told the ACLU “I know that for my crime I had to do some time, but a life sentence for a jacket value at $159. I have met people here whose crimes are a lot badder with way less time.”
His sister was more vocal.
“This doesn’t make sense to me. I know people who have killed people, and they get a lesser sentence. That doesn’t make sense to me right there. You can take a life and get 15 or 16 years. He takes a jacket worth $159 and will stay in jail forever. He didn’t kill the jacket!” she said.
More news with long sentences: