Equal Justice Matters Wall (D)
Joel Daigle with his two sons, who were ages three and seven when he was sentenced to life without parole.
According to Daigle, the firearms that were stolen and used to increase the charge to armed burglary did not contain any ammunition. He was caught after crashing his car into a truck and subsequently hiding a bundle containing the stolen items in the woods. Police searched Daigle’s car and found burglary tools, oxycodone, and morphine.
Daigle has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His wife, Nicole Daigle, says she tried to seek professional help for him, but because the family did not have health insurance and struggled to make ends meet, Daigle could not afford sustained mental health treatment. As a result, she says, he often turned to “self-medication” to “regain his mental balance and emotional stability.” Unfortunately, she said, “Self-medicating in reality means addiction. My husband has battled an on-and-off drug addiction for many of years.” According to both Daigle and his wife, at the time of his crime, he was depressed and self-medicating with narcotics in an attempt to treat his bipolar disorder
Daigle was sentenced to LWOP under Florida’s Prison Releasee Reoffender law. At his sentencing, the man whose house was broken into testified on Daigle’s behalf, asking that the judge not give Daigle a life sentence and stating that he believed a sentence of five to 10 years would be more appropriate. His wife also spoke during his sentencing hearing, describing her husband’s attentiveness and devotion to his children, aged three and seven when Daigle was sentenced, despite his life-long struggle with bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. She said:
Having someone ripped out of our lives in one day with no warning, and not a part of the daily picture is almost like death, but not. The uncertainty of when this sentence will end is unbearable. I have had so much anxiety that it affects me every day. My children do not really understand, and I’ve had to try to simplify it to them as to not create anxiety in them either. They ask for him all of the time, and I can see a huge change in them with him not being around. He made us complete. We were a family when we were together.… Please help us to be a family again, and let him have the right to return home to us in the future…I plead to the court to not give him a life sentence and throw him away like garbage, but rather treat him like the human being he is.
However, because the sentence was mandatory, the judge’s hands were tied, and Daigle received a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Daigle has been in prison for five years, during which he has completed a parenting class. His father, wife, and two sons, now seven and 11, visit him twice a year.
Click here to view original ACLU article (Page 135).
Daniel says he was addicted to drugs and started selling small amounts to support his habit. On October 6, 1989, he was convicted of unlawful delivery of methamphetamine, unlawful possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and unlawful delivery of marijuana and methamphetamine. The charges stemmed from two drug sales over a period of six months. A friend of Daniel’s, who, unbeknownst to him, was working as a confidential informant, set him up to sell an undercover officer a quarter-gram of methamphetamine on one occasion and, six months later, to sell another undercover officer a quarter-gram of methamphetamine and a quarter-ounce of marijuana. That same day, he was also convicted of knowingly concealing stolen property and receiving, possessing or concealing stolen property, offenses he committed in 1986, for which he had received a five-year deferred sentence. He accepted a plea deal and served several years in prison.
Upon his release from prison in 1991, Daniel began working at an oil field and says he spent his time taking care of his wife and young daughter. On November 29, 1995, when he was 33 years old, Daniel said, “My life and my families’ lives changed in a way that I still have a hard time talking about.” According to Daniel, that night he was at his sister’s house and offered to drive a woman he had known all his life to her motel room. By the time they arrived it was late and Daniel decided to spend the night in the room. He recalls he woke up the next morning to the sound of a deputy sheriff kicking in the door to the room and yelling at him to get on the floor. The deputy was accompanied by another deputy and two probation officers, one of whom had put Daniel in prison in 1989. The officers had a warrant for the woman’s arrest but quickly turned their attention to Daniel. Searching the room, the officers uncovered 24 grams of methamphetamine, 15 Valium pills, and marijuana.
On August 4, 1997, his daughter’s birthday, a jury convicted Daniel of trafficking 24 grams of methamphetamine and two counts of possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute. One of the possession-with-intent-to-distribute counts was later reversed on appeal. He was sentenced to LWOP on the methamphetamine trafficking charge, life for the 15 Valium pills, and 10 years for the marijuana. When he heard the sentence, he said it felt like “my world had come to an end.” According to Daniel, the woman from the motel received six months on a probation violation.
In 2004, Daniel was diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C marked with cirrhosis of the liver, stage 4 fibrosis, grade 4 inflammation, and end-stage liver disease. Daniel says he does not qualify for a life-saving liver transplant because he is incarcerated. He struggles with his health in prison, and says, “I’m not going to lie, I go through some pretty rough times dealing with my health issues and still trying to accept my appeals being final, but I also know that I’m not alone and there are others that are worse off than me.” He reports he was once placed in solitary confinement for 65 days for refusing to be placed in the medical unit due to his illness after having previously spent a year-and-a-half in the medical unit.
Daniel says his suffering has been compounded by being away from his family. He told the ACLU that his imprisonment has “really been hard due to my health and not being able to see my family” because of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ decision to send elderly inmates, a lot of whom are, according to Daniel, “pretty sick,” to a facility far from his home. He told the ACLU, “I’ll never give up my hopes and dreams of being free, to spend what little time I do have left with my loved ones.”
Now 50 years old, Daniel has been in prison for 16 years and says he has worked to better himself through participation in drug relapse intervention, anger management, clean and proud, and corrective thinking programs. Having entered prison with only an eighth-grade education, Daniel earned his GED in 2001. In his spare time, he says he works to “fight my illness, play dominos, and exercise as often as I can.” He reports he has been drug-free since his diagnosis in 2005. Daniel said of his sentence, “I’m no angel, but I still can’t see how they can put a person away for the rest of their life just because they were convicted of two or more drug felonies in the past and they happen to be in a place where drugs are present.”
Click here to view original ACLU article (Page 180).
*Donnie’s sentence was ultimately reduced by Governor Mary Fallin to life with the possibility of parole.
Danner joined the U.S. Navy in 1989 and worked on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Ranger aircraft carrier in San Diego, California. In 1991, he served in the Persian Gulf War. After that, “things went downhill for me,” he told the ACLU. He reports he had a drug addiction and was discharged from the military due to his substance abuse. He says he realized the severity of his problem too late and wishes he had sought help early on. “What really bothers me,” he says, “is the fact that I never truly had any treatments or was offered any… I was confused and was not coping with my life properly. I had a lot of potential but my mind was not right. Needed help.”
In order to support his drug addiction, Danner said, he committed a series of burglaries over four months in 1995. He was charged with a burglary and grand theft committed on May 4, 1995; a burglary and grand theft committed on May 26, 1995; and an attempted burglary committed on June 28, 1995. According to Danner, while he was incarcerated in the Hillsborough County Jail in September 1995 for both these charges and a few probation violations, a new charge for a burglary allegedly committed on September 6, 1995, was brought against him. The prosecutor, he said, offered him a 34-month prison sentence if he pleaded guilty to all charges. Although he maintains he did not commit the September 6 burglary, Danner accepted the offer and was sentenced to 34 months on October 13, 1995.
While waiting to enter custody to serve his sentence, prosecutors brought another charge against Danner: armed burglary and grand theft, allegedly committed on September 4, 1995, during which a gun, three televisions, a VHS camcorder, a Canon camera, a boom box, $500 in cash, and a 7-week-old puppy were stolen from a house while its residents were away. The burglary was “armed” because a gun was taken. Danner maintains he did not commit this crime and says that there were no eyewitnesses and no property or weapon was ever recovered or traced back to him. He was convicted based only on fingerprints that were matched to him. Danner fought the charges in court but was convicted as charged. In March 1996, when Danner was 28 years old, the same judge who had only recently sentenced him to 34 months in prison this time imposed a sentence of life without parole.
Danner says he was shocked that the judge so drastically increased the sentence when “just a few months prior to that, he was the same judge that gave me 34 months, which means he did not feel the need to protect the public or think I was a danger to society.” His confusion was compounded by the fact that, according to him, his Pre-Sentence Investigation Report recommended a sentence of five to seven years.
Serving a life sentence is “traumatizing,” Danner said. “After 18 years I still can’t believe this.” He told the ACLU that life without parole “makes you feel almost hopeless, useless and you’re just waiting on your death. It’s like a slow, long, agonizing death sentence.” Since he has been in prison, he has lost his father, mother, and sister. Before his sister’s death, she visited Danner almost every month. Their deaths “hurt even more than the sentence,” he said.
During his first few years in prison, Danner reports he was very angry and served 30 days at a time in solitary confinement on eight or 10 occasions. Now 45 years old and nearly 18 years into his sentence, he says he has taken responsibility for his past actions and has become “very much more mature, humble…and a lot more focused” and has gained “a lot of respect for freedom.” Danner has taken a number of courses, including life skills classes, family enrichment, and computer drafting. While incarcerated, he has worked as an AutoCAD software operator and for Pride Furniture. He spends his time reading everything from history to science to current events. Danner calls himself a changed man and says he believes he can now be a productive citizen and “prove people can change.” “I’m in no way saying I shouldn’t be punished,” Danner said. “But I feel justice in America should be fair.”
Click here to view original ACLU article (Page 127).
In August 1991, when Darden was 29 years old, two Metro Transit police officers stopped Darden as he arrived in Maryland on a train from New York. The officers demanded that he let them search his bag, claiming that he looked nervous and was sweating that summer day. Darden refused and attempted to leave the station, but the officers seized his bag and had it examined by a drug-sniffing dog that indicated it contained drugs. The officers then obtained a warrant to search the bag and found just over 200 grams of crack. Darden was arrested the next day carrying a bag with two handguns and a triple-beam scale.
A Maryland state judge threw out the case, ruling that the officers did not have probable cause to detain Darden’s bag. The Maryland Supreme Court upheld the ruling that the search was unconstitutional. Federal prosecutors then decided to prosecute Darden and indicted him two years after the incident that was the basis for the charges. Darden was arrested in 1995—four years after he committed his crime—when he was stopped for a traffic violation.
Darden was convicted in federal court of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute; the court dismissed the charges for drug conspiracy and firearm possession. Because of his prior drug felonies, he received a mandatory LWOP sentence; he had two prior felony drug convictions for criminal sale of a controlled substance at age 19 and attempted criminal possession of 14 grams of cocaine at age 23. At sentencing, Judge Peter Messitte told him, “The Court doesn’t have any leeway in this matter. Your sentence is mandatory life without release and that’s what I impose.”
Darden, now 51, has served 17 years in prison. He told the ACLU, “At times I get depressed…. It’s hard, with the thought one may never get out of prison. My family all think that I had to have took someone’s life to have got this much time.” He has two children, a son who was 14 and a daughter who was 18 months old when he was imprisoned. Darden, who had dropped out of school in the tenth grade, has earned his GED in prison. While imprisoned, he has focused on studying and gaining vocational skills. He has been certified in construction and floor care, and he is working on an apprenticeship as a custodian. He adds, “If given a chance to be, I would show and prove that I’m not someone that deserves to be locked up like this. I just want a chance to prove that I’m not a threat.”
Click here to view original ACLU article (Page 93).
*Ricky’s sentence was ultimately commuted by President Obama after serving more than 20 years behind bars.
Born in Gainesville, Florida, Dekle grew up on a farm in New River and attended Lake City Community College. He also served in the Marines, from which he was honorably discharged. Dekle was an FAA-licensed pilot and flew planeloads of marijuana into the United States. He was convicted in 1981 and 1983 of marijuana smuggling. He skipped parole in 1987 and was finally convicted in 1990, at age 40, of conspiracy to import and possess more than 1,000 kilos of marijuana, for which he was sentenced to two mandatory sentences of life without parole despite the trial judge’s characterization of the sentence as draconian.
Dekle told the ACLU that his sentence is “like being dead, but without the peace that comes with death.” He has served the majority of his sentence in high-security federal prisons, where he says he witnesses assaults as part of daily life and even homicides are not uncommon. He has taken more than 30 educational and vocational courses during his more than two decades in prison, and he counsels other prisoners. He suffers from a chronic knee injury and has a staggering gait. His wife, two daughters, and grandchildren know him as “Papa Billy” and are eager to support him if he were to be released from prison.
He says, “Since I’ve gone to prison, my children have graduated from high school. They have graduated from college. My children have had children of their own. My mother has passed away, my father has passed away. There are correctional officers and inmates here that were not born when I started this sentence. How much more do they want? Is my death here the only thing that will satisfy society?”
Click here to view original ACLU article (Page 165).
*William’s sentence was ultimately commuted by President Obama after serving more than 20 years behind bars.
Dodd believes he is the first prisoner to be sentenced to mandatory LWOP for a nonviolent drug crime under Oklahoma’s habitual offender law. He was sentenced to LWOP in 1991 for, as he puts it, “talking about buying some marijuana.” Dodd is the father of three children, and prior to his incarceration he worked as a trim carpenter. He tried to buy 50 pounds of marijuana from an undercover police officer posing as a seller, and he was arrested before the sale was concluded. He was convicted in February 1991 of conspiracy to traffic in marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He was sentenced to a mandatory life-without parole sentence because of his four prior drug felonies dating back to 1978, which included convictions for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of an unlicensed firearm he made from a kit he bought at a gun show. Under the sentencing guidelines, based on his prior offenses, his sentence would have been 13.5 years.
Now 59, Dodd has served 22 years of his sentence. Since his incarceration, he has divorced from his wife of 17 years. He told the ACLU, “I don’t see the point, I mean I don’t even smoke weed anymore. What’s the threat here? When I was on the street, I went fishing and I smoked joints…I wasn’t hurting anyone.”
Click here to view original ACLU article (Page 161).
Altonio Douglas with his mother, daughters, grandsons, and nephew.
One of 13 siblings, Douglas worked steadily from age 15 until he was laid off from his job of several years at age 27. Unable to find another job to support his family, he says he began dealing drugs to make ends meet. Less than three years later, Douglas was accused with 23 others, including his father and uncles, of participating in a large crack cocaine distribution operation that operated in Fort Worth for 18 months between 1991 and 1992. Following a trial with 16 co-defendants, Douglas was convicted of conspiracy to possess and distribute crack cocaine; possession with intent to distribute and distribution of crack cocaine; and use and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime. The trial judge found Douglas and his co-conspirators responsible for distributing 15 kilograms of crack cocaine.
Click here to view original ACLU article (Page 60).
*Altonio’s sentence was ultimately commuted by President Obama.
From Atlanta, Georgia, Dufries was driving his RV through Oklahoma in February 2003 when an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper stopped him because he was driving eight miles over the speed limit and had a broken taillight. Marijuana was found in an ensuing search of his RV; according to court records, 67 pounds of marijuana were found. Dufries was convicted at trial of trafficking more than 25 pounds of marijuana. Dufries says that he became involved in transporting marijuana in order to pay his medical bills after he was diagnosed with lung cancer while uninsured. Dufries explains that it was “a bad decision to try to make some money to afford healthcare.”
Dufries was sentenced to a mandatory LWOP sentence under Oklahoma’s habitual offender statute because of two prior convictions; in 1988, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and in 1996, he pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. According to Dufries, he rejected a plea deal of 40 years’ imprisonment because his public defender misinformed him that he would be eligible for parole after serving 36.4 years of the sentence, when in fact he would have been eligible for parole after only 13.3 years. Dufries says that his public defender also never explained that a life-without-parole sentence was a possibility when he decided to go to trial. He explains, “My thinking was that no jury in their right mind would give a life-without-parole sentence for a nonviolent marijuana offense.” However, when the jurors convicted Dufries, they were unaware that the statutory minimum sentence in his case was life without parole.
Dufries calls his sentence a “walking death sentence.” Referring to his understanding of James Holmes’s sentence for his mass shooting of moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado, Dufries told the ACLU, “It kills me that the kid who killed all those people in the movie theater is getting the same sentence I did. It doesn’t add up.” He adds, “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, harsh and so wrong.”
Dufries has served 10 years in prison and is now 55. Dufries has completed the Faith and Character Community Program, an intensive year-long character development program with a faith element, and he says that it has been extremely difficult to be surrounded by the violence he has witnessed in prison. Since he has been incarcerated, both of his parents have died, and his sister has fallen ill with cancer.
Click here to view original ACLU article (Page 160).
*William’s sentence was ultimately commuted by Governor Mary Fallin after serving more than 15 years behind bars.
Larry Duke with his daughter and grandson.
Duke was convicted of 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. In late 1989, Duke attempted to purchase, with co-conspirators, a large quantity of marijuana from a government informant who had a prior marijuana arrest. Undercover officers set up the sale and arrested Duke and his co-conspirators immediately after delivering 4,800 pounds of marijuana to them.
Duke is a decorated Vietnam War combat veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam with the Delta Company 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. He says he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to his military service in Vietnam. Duke told the ACLU, “[W]hile I was there, I often thought I would probably die in a firefight in Viet Nam, and then later, I thought maybe I’d catch a streamer while sky-diving and crash and burn. Or perhaps, lose control of a car at a very high rate of speed, but never in my wildest dreams have I ever imagined I’d die in prison.”
A carpenter and inventor who continues to work on engineering problems in prison, Duke obtained a federal patent for a clean water-delivery system while serving his life sentence. He has a wife, two children, two grandsons, and a large extended family who want him home. Incarcerated since 1989, Duke says that he fervently wishes that Congress will “opt to give some degree of hope of our having one more shot of Tequila, and one more slow dance with Sheila before we go.”
Click here to view original ACLU article (Page 164).
*Larry’s sentence was ultimately commuted by President Obama after serving more than 26 years behind bars.
The trial court found that from ages 23 to 25, Dunkins manufactured and distributed crack cocaine for a Fort Worth, Texas-based drug conspiracy comprised of 15 co-conspirators. No drugs were ever seized in the case, and Dunkins was convicted largely on the basis of testimony from co-conspirators who received reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony.
Dunkins was sentenced to a mandatory sentence of life without parole; if had he been sentenced for an equal amount of powder cocaine instead of crack, he would have received a sentence of 20 years. At sentencing, Judge Terry R. Means told him, “[I]t does seem unfair that the guidelines bind me to give you a life sentence…. It troubles me to think that you at your age [are] going to have to spend the rest of your life in prison. It troubles me a lot. ”
It was Dunkins’s first felony conviction. He had only one prior misdemeanor conviction for shoplifting from Kmart when he was 21 years old, for which he received one-year probation. “To have no release date is devastating, as a first-time nonviolent offender,” he says. “I can’t even remember being sentenced; I was in a total daze that they pulled a life sentence on me. I didn’t understand the sentence at the time. Two to three months later, I find out a life sentence is a life sentence. I’m surprised that I am still able to function. ”
Dunkins, now 47, has been incarcerated for nearly 22 years. If the crack/powder cocaine disparity were eliminated, he would already have been released from prison. His three daughters, who were only one, five, and six years old when he was incarcerated, are now in their twenties; two are in medical school. He stays in touch with his daughters and mother weekly. He says of being separated from his daughters, “It’s devastating, horrible, not being around to see them graduate and go to school and day-to-day function as a family should. I missed their graduations.” He adds, “I missed out on a lot, with my family. I missed out on marriages, funerals.”
Dunkins says that his mom, Bonnie Dunkins, cries whenever she visits him. Bonnie, who has Stage 4 cancer, told the ACLU, “I ask God to help me to hold on. I just want to live, God’s will, to see him come home…I just pray and ask God to let me live to see him home.” She adds, “His father didn’t live to see him be released. Whatever my oncologist gives me, I don’t object. I’m just trying to hold on for my son. I love him. I just pray that I live to see that day that he walks through that door.”
Bonnie remains extremely close with her son, who says he desperately wishes he could be released from prison to support her. “That’s my only son and he was such an inspiration and a big help to me when he was at home. We just did everything together, and I miss him. It’s been hard for me,” Bonnie says. “I just miss him so much. He’s my only son. I have three daughters, but no one takes the place of Douglas Ray Dunkins Jr.”
For nearly a decade, Dunkins has worked as a certified paralegal, assisting other inmates with their cases; he says he loves doing legal work. He has completed an array of educational and vocational programs while in prison and has held several prison jobs, including a position working in the prison’s food administration warehouse. He says that if he were released from prison, he would mentor youth to ensure they avoid making the mistakes he has made and work as a paralegal. “Given a second chance, I know that I would be much more productive,” he says. “Prison has opened my eyes to a lot of things in life in general. And it’s educated me. ”
Click here to view original ACLU article (Page 169).
*Douglas’s sentence was ultimately commuted by President Obama after serving more than 24 years behind bars.
Douglas Dunkins with his family. His daughters were one, five, and six when he was incarcerated. They are now 23, 25, and 27.