Relatives of Larry Drum have watched several motions shot down in court and are now on their fourth attorney in their quest to spring their 68-year-old brother and son from prison.
Drum, a former Lake Orion business owner, has served 14 1/2 years of a mandatory life sentence in prison and is currently housed at the Macomb Correctional Facility in New Haven.
His widowed mother, Ione, 92, is frail and uses a walker. She has been unable to visit her son for four years but frequently talks to him by telephone.
Her son, Gary Drum, said seeing Larry freed is "the most important thing in life" for her. "That's all she thinks about and she prays about it every day."
"It's a real heartache," Ione said. "For both of us. Especially for me. And the rest of the family."
The seven surviving siblings of Drum are coordinating a letter-writing and media campaign to appeal to Gov. Jennifer Granholm to commute their brother's sentence. The former Marine and Ferndale resident, who had no prior criminal record, was given two consecutive 10-year minimum sentences plus a life sentence under an old law dictating mandatory life sentences for possession or delivery of at least 650 grams - about 1.4 pounds - of cocaine.
Larry Drum was never addicted to cocaine but had slipped into casual use during a difficult time in his life, said his sister, Gayle Garcia, 51. The former head of several automotive detailing companies was in the midst of a divorce from his wife of nearly 20 years, who was moving with their two sons to Florida. Larry also had trouble with a business partner but didn't talk about it much, she said.
He was arrested in 1986 for delivering 650 grams of cocaine in a sting operation (the two 10-year minimum sentences were issued for possessing smaller amounts). The intended recipient in the deal was reportedly serving as a police informant to avoid serving a prison sentence of his own.
The supplier, John Martin, was also arrested and was sentenced in 1991 to five years plus a life sentence.
Martin was released on parole in January.
Garcia, who lives in Lapeer, said her brother delivered drugs on only two occasions. She said he was never paid in cash for the transactions, only in cocaine for his own personal use.
"My brother, he's never had any priors or anything," she said. "He's been an upstanding citizen ... he's been involved in the community."
His mother, Ione, said she didn't think the sentence was a fair one.
"It's a real tragedy," she said.
A Controversial Law Reformed
Larry Drum was sentenced under a 1978 law that established mandatory life sentences for individuals arrested with at least 650 grams of cocaine or heroin. The law, which came to be known as the "650 lifer law," also banished the possibility of parole.
Enacted when the crack cocaine epidemic was sweeping through Michigan's inner cities, the law was seen as a way to snare the kingpins of notorious drug cartels like Detroit's notorious Young Boys Inc.
But in the years that followed, critics said the law, which was cited as one of the least flexible in the entire country, succeeded mostly at sending nonviolent, lowlevel drug offenders to prison for life, as higher-up dealers avoided lifetime incarceration by having younger or lower-level dealers make the actual drops. The law also was blamed for an escalating prison population and the spiraling cost to taxpayers of housing inmates.
In 1998, the Legislature enacted new sentencing guidelines that created parole windows in life sentences at 15, 17 1/2 and 20 years, depending on certain circumstances, said Russ Marlan, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Then, in 2002, Gov. John Engler signed legislation effectively ending the state's mandatory minimum drug sentencing, allowing judges flexibility in determining drug sentencing.
Garcia said Larry's siblings decided to start a letter-writing and media campaign after talking with a woman at the Macomb Correctional Facility who used the same tactics and reported success in freeing her son, who was incarcerated on a different offense.
Garcia said their campaign has so far generated several articles and letters to the editors of local newspapers and earned letters of support from officials, including state Sen. Mike Bishop of Rochester and former Gov. William Milliken, who has regarded his signing of the 650 lifer law as a mistake.
"We have had a very huge response," she said, "way over 50 letters to the governor."
Garcia said the family has turned to Oxford attorney Fred Miller for help.
Miller said he filed papers requesting the governor commute or pardon Larry Drum's sentence earlier this week.
"If you look at his history, he's got no prior criminal records before that, and he's been, from what I can tell, a model prisoner," Miller said.
The attorney also noted that the co-defendant is already out on parole.
Larry "was involved, he did this, he admitted it. But I mean, as this law is written, there's no room for anything else."
Miller said this is the first case of its kind he's taken on. He said he doesn't know whether Granholm will agree to commute Drum's sentence, but he is hopeful.
Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd forwarded questions to Marlan, but said that, to date, Granholm has commuted five sentences since taking office in 2003 - all of them for health reasons.
Marlan said the state's 10-member Parole Board has yet to receive the commutation request from Miller, which it must first receive before voting to move forward with the process.
He said Drum's best hope is to receive a commutation from the governor, since in his particular case, he won't be eligible for parole until December 1 2008 - after 17 1/2 years in prison. And even if he were to be paroled at that point, Marlan said, his two consecutive 10-year sentences for the lesser convictions would then kick in.
A commutation order would cover all crimes, but "the likelihood of the Parole Board even recommending the governor commute before he's even eligible for parole is highly unlikely," Marlan said.
A Bitter Irony
The Drum family, which formerly stood 10 siblings strong, points to another painful episode in its past. One of the Drum daughters, Shirley Ann Olson, was murdered by her husband, Ano Olson, in 1974. Garcia said her sister, mostly unknown to her siblings, had endured years of abuse at the hands of her husband and left one day for a doctor's appointment and never returned.
Her body was found in the trunk of a car parked at St. Joseph Mercy-Oakland hospital in Pontiac. She had been strangled to death with a seat belt.
Police charged Ano Olson with murdering his wife. He was convicted of second degree murder and received a sentence of 10-20 years in prison. He was released in 1982, according to the state's Offender Tracking Information System Web site.
"We all realize that (Larry) did something wrong and broke the law," brother Gary Drum said. "But the sentences that he got was life and two consecutive 10 years. But my sister was murdered by her husband, who got 6 1/2 years, and GM gave him his job back. So there's a lot of animosity in my family toward the judicial system."
Garcia said the family's recent momentum and campaign to free him have Larry Drum in good spirits. "For a long time I was worried about his mental health because I thought he was giving up hope," she said.
Garcia said she knows her brother can one day make a meaningful contribution to society again.
"To me, I have to say that I feel very good about this," she said. "I feel better about this, I have to say, than I have in a long, long time. I don't know how Larry will react if it doesn't work. ... Just yesterday I told him about the governor's offi ce calling me and told him about putting it in the papers and I told him about Governor Milliken. ... It's phenomenal to us the response we've gotten.
"When I updated my brother yesterday, he said: 'I'm shaking from head to toe. I don't know what to say.' His hopes are way up there. Ours are, too. And I don't know what will happen if this doesn't work. ... This is my brother's last chance."
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