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Tyrone Brown -- An Update

By Chuck Armsbury, senior editor

What began routinely as another Internet story illustrating drug war injustice posted on November Coalition's The WALL in 2005 has become a national movement to free Tyrone Brown from a life sentence in a Texas prison. Locked up since 1990, Tyrone had written our office in July 2004, asking to have his version of courtroom events told to the world.

After confirming key facts and hearing more from Tyrone, we uploaded this story as expressed in prose and poetry to The WALL section of our website. on March 25, 2005. Brown told us he got life in prison for smoking marijuana while on probation for an armed robbery. He was 17 years of age then, sixteen years ago. He had no adult criminal history and a minor juvenile record.

Honestly, it was hard to believe Tyrone's story. Who gets life in prison for puffing the herb?

Brooks Egerton of the Dallas Morning News called our office not long after posting Tyrone's writing on The WALL. Like other reporters who have used The WALL to find a newsworthy drug war shocker, Egerton was stunned to read of Tyrone's life sentence and also questioned whether it was handed down for just smoking mj.

Egerton's Sunday feature article in the Morning News on April 23, 2006 confirmed that Judge Keith Dean had ordered Tyrone -- a poor, black teenager -- to serve life in prison for "just smoking weed" while on a 10-year probation. "Good Luck, Mr. Brown," Judge Dean said after pronouncing sentence.

During his investigation, Egerton found that Judge Dean had given a 10-year deferred sentence (probation) to a privileged, coked-out white man (Alex Woods) who had murdered a male prostitute by shooting him in the back, and who repeatedly violated terms of probation without suffering consequences. Egerton's black/white contrast in judicial fairness couldn't have been expressed sharper.

Our office began hearing from concerned, compassionate people from Texas, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, and California immediately following Egerton's expose'. A few months later this trickle of outrage became a torrent of nationwide indignation following the airing of ABC TV's 20/20 on November 3, 2006 that affirmed Egerton's conclusions and added more. ABC filmed Tyrone's armed robbery victim, a white man who told 20/20 that Tyrone never hurt him, and later returned his wallet, minus the $2 stickup money.

Bill Hathaway, the robbery victim, has echoed public outrage about the case, admitting he didn't know about Mr. Brown's sentence until The Morning News contacted him earlier this year and said then: "You have got to be kidding me."

A score of the most outraged viewers of the 20/20 Special phoned or emailed November Coalition, called each other, spoke with friends and soon organized to mobilize the Save Mr. Brown campaign. A young graduate student in medicine and business created the initial informational website (no longer available) in the night after viewing the 20/20 episode. The core organizing team for Save Mr. Brown includes both Nora Callahan and myself.

On November 7, 2006 Judge Keith Dean lost his bid for re-election. Contacted previously by Save Mr. Brown volunteers in Texas and Florida, once-reluctant Judge Dean has now come forward and agreed to endorse clemency for Tyrone Brown. County Prosecutor Bill Hill has also consented to sign papers petitioning Governor Rick Perry for an executive order releasing Tyrone to time served.

Judge Keith Dean "contacted my office about this case several months ago, shortly after the Dallas Morning News ran a story about it. Dean told me that he wanted Brown to receive a time cut, but that he did not want to be the one to initiate it," Hill said in the latest Dallas Morning News story, 12/09/06, by Brooks Egerton.

"It is the belief of this office that Mr. Brown has paid his debt for this crime, and that life imprisonment is too harsh a penalty," Mr. Hill wrote in his public statement to the Morning News.

"Among private citizens," wrote Egerton, "who have urged the governor to commute Mr. Brown's sentence is O.S. Hawkins, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas. He is a longtime friend of Alex Woods' family, and testified on the killer's behalf during a trial that preceded the guilty plea." "If there seems to ever have been unequal justice, it has been meted in Mr. Brown's situation," Dr. Hawkins told the governor in an April 2006 letter.

As this Razor Wire goes to press, we don't know how Governor Rick Perry will respond to this unusual public outcry for Tyrone's release. Perry doesn't grant many commutations. Whatever his decision, Save Mr. Brown campaigners expect justice, and are determined to continue this 'equal justice' campaign if Perry denies our appeal for clemency and immediate release.

Save Mr. Brown campaigners are likewise pledged to be a main force for helping Tyrone and his family through the difficult months after release. Optimism runs high that Perry will do the right thing, and allow the waters of love from family and friends to wash down every day on this deserving man.

To learn more about Tyrone Brown's case, including full Egerton articles:

Hello everyone --

Just a note to let you know I wrote to Tyrone, and much to my surprise received a letter back from him last week. He is in very good spirits and is hopeful about his future. Tyrone has a wonderful sense of humor and, as anyone can see from his poetry, has a great way with words. Just delightful.

Since I live in Dallas, he gave me his mother's phone number, and I contacted her yesterday. Nora Mae Brown is a gracious, lovely woman -- and she is extremely hopeful as well. They are overwhelmed with the response from all over the country and so grateful to everyone for what's happening now.

I didn't ask her any details about the status, but she's hoping to have Tyrone home by Christmas! Realistically, she doesn't know if that will happen, of course.

But I was encouraged to hear the joy of a hopeful mother.

I wanted to share this with all of you who care so much and who have worked so diligently toward this effort.

Happy Holidays -- JJ Davis

(Editor -- This email letter arrived 12/14/06 while tweaking final draft of Winter 2007 Razor Wire before printing. Expressed here are common feelings of many people across the nation determined to see Tyrone free.)

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