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Tyrone Brown is free at last! Video: Jailed For A Joint; from YouTube, 4/7/07 Video: Tyrone's Homecoming, provided by Dallas Morning News, 3/15/07
Life in Prison for Smoking Marijuana
Tyrone Brown's story was featured on ABC TV's 20/20 show on Nov 3, 2006. You can view the 20/20 Webcast of Tyrone's segment here, or read a transcript here.
Date: Fri, Mar 9, 2007 - 13:45:57
Subject: Free at Last, Free at Last
Thank God Almighty Tyrone is FREE AT LAST!!!
Texas Governor Rick Perry signed an executive proclamation today that conditionally pardoned Tyrone's life sentence. After receiving a life sentence for smoking marijuana and enduring 16 years confined behind the walls of a Texas prison, Tyrone will walk as a free man.
Many months ago we set out to "Save Mr. Brown," and collectively, we have accomplished that mission. We must be forever grateful to the people whose signatures made this commutation possible, for without the approval of Judge Dean, D.A. Bill Hill, the members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and Governor Perry, Tyrone could not have been released. However, there can be no doubt that these people would not have signed all of the documents were it not for your abiding devotion to fundamental fairness. The countless letters, emails, faxes, and phone calls in combination with pressure from news media and Texas legislators, ensured that justice ultimately prevailed.
Tyrone will be transported in a Texas Department of Criminal Justice vehicle from Allred Unit to Huntsville , which is where prison officials will process the necessary paperwork to release him. We are planning a Homecoming Celebration at Tyrone's church in Dallas, so I will email you as soon we determine the date and time. I hope many of you will be able to attend.
As happy as all of us are for Tyrone's release, we cannot forget that the Governor's signature today does not represent the end, but instead it ushers the dawn of a new day in Tyrone's life. Our commitment to Tyrone and his family must remain strong, and we shall stand by Tyrone's side so that his transition into the free world will be smooth. Some have already volunteered their professional services and others have made monetary commitments, but we need everyone's help. Please visit the savemrbrown.com website to learn how you can contribute your time or money. We cannot abandon Tyrone now. We succeeded in releasing Tyrone as a team, and we will keep him out as a team.
The Dallas Morning News has already posted an article on their web page:
(Article also posted below)
March 9, 2007 - Dallas Morning News (TX)
Gov. Perry Pardons Man's Life Sentence For Pot
By Brooks Egerton, The Dallas Morning News
Gov. Rick Perry decided Friday to free Tyrone Brown, a Dallas man sentenced to life in prison 17 years ago after smoking marijuana while on probation.
But Mr. Perry stopped short of simply terminating the sentence, as recommended by Dallas County officials and the Texas parole board.
Instead, he granted a conditional pardon after determining that Mr. Brown "would require supervision after he was released from prison to assist in his reintegration," Perry spokesman Ted Royer said.
Mr. Brown, whose case has attracted national attention since The Dallas Morning News publicized it last year, will have to live with his mother, report to a parole officer, find a job and work with a therapist.
"Any violation of these conditions will cause the conditional pardon to be revoked," Mr. Royer said. "The Board of Pardons and Paroles must submit annual reports to the governor concerning Brown's supervision, which will assist in determining the length of supervision."
Mr. Brown was 17 when he went on probation for taking part in an armed robbery in which no one was hurt. Judge Keith Dean re-sentenced him to life after one positive drug test.
In prison, he failed to finish his high school education, fought with guards and joined a gang before cleaning up his act in recent years.
Mr. Brown's case stood in sharp contrast to that of a well-connected murderer whom Judge Dean put on probation, The News reported. The killer, John Alexander Wood, repeatedly tested positive for cocaine and committed other violations, yet avoided prison. He even got permission to quit reporting to a probation officer and quit taking drug tests.
Neither man had a prior criminal history. The judge has never explained his actions.
The story outraged readers, inspired coverage on ABC-TV's 20/20 news program and led to formation of a Web-based campaign to free Mr. Brown.
Several hundred people have called or written the governor urging that he commute the sentence. The only known opposition came from two members of the parole board, who have not explained their positions.
Bill Hathaway, the man that Mr. Brown robbed of $2 in 1990, has been among his many supporters.
"I think he's done his time," Mr. Hathaway said. "I have nothing against him."
The prisoner's mother, Nora Brown, said she was being bombarded with calls from well-wishers as news of governor's decision began trickling out. "He's coming home!" she said.
The exact date of his release was unclear this afternoon. Ms. Brown said it probably will be next week.
Contact the writer at: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co.
January 2007 - Dallas Examiner (TX)
NAACP: 'Free Tyrone Brown!'
Texas State Branches Seek Release For Sentencing Disparity Victim; Asks Public For Support
By Gordon Jackson, Dallas Examiner
Tyrone Brown was a victim of a malicious form of racial double standard and should be released from prison, claim The Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches. They are reaching out to the public for assistance in seeking that release.
Under the command of state president Gary Bledsoe, Bob Lydia, State NAACP First Vice President and former Dallas branch president is coordinating the effort to persuade the State Board of Pardons and Paroles to recognize Brown's case and order his release.
"I thank God for those people," said Nora Brown, Brown's mother. "Bob Lydia told me, 'I will work with you until your son is free.' He has been there to lift me up."
Brown, an African American, is serving life in prison, while John Wood, a White male is free, on yearly report, although he committed a more serious crime. The grave disparity was reported in an April 2006 edition of The Dallas Morning News. (Ed. See below)
Brown was involved in a $2 robbery when he was 17, and was given a 10-year probationary sentence. However, Brown violated probation by testing positive for marijuana and received life in prison. He has served over 16 years of his life sentence and remains in the Allred Unit, four miles west of Wichita Falls.
Wood murdered an unarmed male prostitute and received 10 years probation. He violated the terms of his probation by testing positive for cocaine, but his term probation was not revoked. Additionally he repeatedly violated other terms of his probation, yet an early release was sought and he is now on yearly report by mail.
"This man killed someone but my son is down there because he was smoking a joint?" Ms. Brown said in amazement.
Both men appeared before Dallas County District Judge Keith Dean, who was recently defeated in the Nov. 7 elections.
"I don't hate Judge Dean, but it's not up to me to judge. He's going to have to answer to God," Ms. Brown said.
The extreme disparity between Brown and Wood was also a featured story on the ABC news magazine show 20/20. The Dallas NAACP along with others have sought the release of Brown over the intervening months.
According to the NAACP, both former Judge Dean and former Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill who handled the case have agreed that the penalty is too harsh. The victim of Brown's robbery has expressed outrage and stated that Brown has served enough time and should be released.
The Board of Pardons and Parole will be required to act on these recommendations and we hope to let them know the community agrees with the sentencing judge, DA and the victim that Mr. Brown has been punished enough and should be released immediately, said the State NAACP.
The NAACP is asking for the public to send letters to the Board of Pardons and Paroles at the following address: Executive Clemency Section, 8610 Shoal Creek Blvd., Austin, Texas 78757. Letters can also be faxed to 512-467-0945, Attn: Maria Ramirez.
The State NAACP is also asking the public to fax copies of their letters to the NAACP at the following fax number, 972-572-3315 and Governor Rick Perry at the following fax number 512-463-1849, who will be required to act on any recommendation. Please note in your letter that you understand there is a support structure in place to assist Brown in the reintegration back into society. For more information, contact Bob Lydia at 214-428-3314.
Brown's mother expressed faith that the campaign will result in her son's release.
"I told him, 'Just because they give you life doesn't mean you're going to be there for life,'" she said. "He used to be so bitter, but he's at peace now, there's joy in him.
"I know Tyrone will be freed. I feel it in my heart. I've got his room ready."
Further Media: Clamor Grows for Freedom for Texas Marijuana Prisoner Tyrone Brown; from Drug War Chronicle (US), 12/15/06
December 9, 2006 - Dallas Morning News (TX)
DA Wants Prisoner's Freedom
Perry Asked To Commute Life Term For Minor Probation Violation
By Brooks Egerton, The Dallas Morning News
Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill has asked Gov. Rick Perry to free a man who tested positive for marijuana once while on probation for robbery and was sentenced to life in prison.
Mr. Hill also told the governor that the judge in Tyrone Brown's case -- which gained national attention after a report in The Dallas Morning News -- had expressed interest in helping free the inmate but failed to act.
Judge Keith Dean "contacted my office about this case several months ago, shortly after The Dallas Morning News ran a story about it," Mr. Hill wrote. "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.
"I told Dean that I would join with him in requesting a time cut, but that he should be the one to initiate it because he was responsible for the sentence. Several months have passed, and Dean has not initiated the request."
Judge Dean did not respond to repeated requests for comment this week. He has previously declined to discuss the Brown case, which was featured last month on ABC-TV's 20/20 news show.
Viewers around the country expressed outrage after the newspaper and TV reports, and some began a letter-writing campaign asking public officials to help free Mr. Brown.
The governor's office has been getting mail about the matter since April, when The News wrote about Mr. Brown's case and contrasted it with another Dallas probation case that Judge Dean handled very differently.
Mr. Perry takes the district attorney's request "very seriously and will give it his full consideration" if the parole board endorses it, spokesman Ted Royer said.
Mr. Brown has been in prison since 1990, when he took part in a $2 armed robbery in which no one was hurt. He was 17 at the time; he had no adult criminal history and a minor juvenile record. His family was too poor to afford a lawyer, so the court appointed one. He pleaded guilty and was put on 10 years of deferred-adjudication probation.
Tyrone Brown is serving a life term at the maximum-security James Allred Unit near Wichita Falls. His case has drawn national attention. Judge Dean changed that to a life sentence after the one marijuana violation. The district attorney's office made no sentencing recommendation regarding the violation, court records show.
The contrasting case was that of John Alexander "Alex" Wood, a well-connected man who shot an unarmed prostitute in the back in 1995 and pleaded guilty to murder. Like Mr. Brown, he had no adult criminal record and got 10 years of deferred-adjudication probation.
Mr. Wood repeatedly tested positive for cocaine while on probation and committed other violations. He was arrested for cocaine possession in Waco while driving a congressman's car, but prosecutors there didn't press charges because of unspecified evidence problems. He smashed a woman's door in a dispute over a dog, but again the case was dropped.
Judge Dean let Mr. Wood stay free and eventually exempted him from most standard conditions of probation: no drug tests, no ban on gun ownership, no meetings with a probation officer. Mr. Wood completed his sentence in May, leaving him with no conviction on his record.
The district attorney is asking the governor to commute Mr. Brown's prison term to the 16 years he has already served.
"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.
Bill Hathaway, the robbery victim, has echoed that sentiment. He didn't know about Mr. Brown's sentence until The News contacted him earlier this year and said then: "You have got to be kidding me."
Two things must happen before Mr. Perry could take the rare step of commuting a sentence. First, the Board of Pardons and Paroles must get at least one more written recommendation, from Judge Dean or Sheriff Lupe Valdez. Then the board must recommend commutation to the governor.
The sheriff has not been asked to write a letter and is unfamiliar with the matter, officials in her administration said.
Judge Dean has been asked to join the effort and is meeting Monday with representatives of Mr. Brown's family, said the prisoner's mother, Nora Brown. She said she is confident that the judge will agree to help.
Mr. Hill said through his spokeswoman that Judge Dean gave him no reason for not wanting to initiate the commutation process.
The district attorney, who declined to be interviewed, did not seek re-election and is leaving office at the end of the month. The judge, a fellow Republican, lost his re-election bid.
Among private citizens 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 Wood's 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 letter.
He told The News this week that he has "secured the help of a business owner here in Dallas who has offered to provide employment for Mr. Brown, should his sentence be commuted. I pray others will pick up his cause."
Mr. Brown, who is eligible for parole in 2009, said in a recent letter to The News that he was looking forward to "the day I finally get to hear these iron doors close behind me for the last time."
"I'm still here holding on as best I can and awaiting a better day, which is so near," he wrote. "There are many people out there who really do care what's going on in this world."
Contact Brooks Egerton at email@example.com
Sidebar: Reducing Sentences Is A Rarity
Gov. Rick Perry doesn't grant commutations lightly.
He last reduced prisoners' sentences in June 2005, state officials say, and then only because the U.S. Supreme Court barred execution of those who committed murder as juveniles. The death sentences of 28 Texans subsequently were cut to life prison terms.
The parole board recommended two other commutations in 2005, according to clemency administrator Maria Ramirez. One was for a Madison County cocaine dealer named Lester Davis, who was already on parole. Mr. Perry refused to shorten his sentence.
The second was for a Harris County murderer named Max Moussazadeh, who asked to reduce his prison term from 75 years to 30. Mr. Perry has not acted on that request.
Ms. Ramirez said the governor last granted a Dallas County commutation request in 2002. That resulted in Charles Garrett going free after serving nearly four years of a life sentence for possessing two grams of heroin.
Mr. Garrett was originally sentenced in 1970. He fled while a jury was deliberating his punishment and lived a crime-free life before being caught in the late 1990s.
April 23, 2006 - Dallas Morning News (TX)
Scales Of Justice Can Swing Wildly
Two Very Different Men Commit Two Very Different Crimes. When Both Violate Probation, There Are Very Different Results: The Robber Gets Life; The Killer Remains Free.
By Brooks Egerton, The Dallas Morning News
First came the poor man, barely 17 years old -- too young to buy beer or vote, but an adult under the Texas penal code. He took part in a $2 stickup in which no one got hurt. He pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and was put on 10 years of probation.
He broke the rules once, by smoking marijuana. A Dallas judge responded in the harshest possible way: He replaced the original sentence with a life term in prison.
There Tyrone Brown sits today, 16 years later, tattooed and angry and pondering self-destruction. "I've tried suicide a few times," he writes. "What am I to make of a life filled with failure, including failing to end my life?"
Now the flip side of the coin, also from Judge Keith Dean's court: A well-connected man pleaded guilty to murder -- for shooting an unarmed prostitute in the back -- and also got 10 years of probation.
The killer proceeded to break the rules by, among other things, smoking crack cocaine. He repeatedly failed drug tests. He was arrested for cocaine possession in Waco while driving a congressman's car, but prosecutors there didn't press charges.
Judge Dean has let this man stay free and, last year, exempted him from most of the usual conditions of probation. John Alexander "Alex" Wood no longer must submit to drug tests or refrain from owning a gun or even meet with a probation officer. He's simply supposed to obey the law and mail the court a postcard once a year that gives his current address.
The judge's written court policies say that defendants who have broken the rules are not eligible for postcard probation. But no one can make him obey his own standards. Indeed, judges in Texas and most other states have few limits on possible punishments when defendants violate probation, which sets the stage for lawful but extreme disparities.
And "you can't tell what the reasons are," said Kevin Reitz, a University of Minnesota law professor who is one of the nation's leading experts on sentencing guidelines. "I call this a black box system. You have someone with a lot of power and no burden of explanation."
Judge Dean, a widely respected 20-year veteran of the Dallas criminal bench, said he wouldn't discuss the two cases because he might have to rule on them again someday. In general, he said, he tries to evaluate "the potential danger to the community" when someone violates probation "and what, in the long run, is going to be in the best interest of the community and the person themselves."
The judge gave Mr. Wood his special privileges without receiving a formal request, court records show. "This certainly undermines one's confidence in the judicial system around here," said Rick Jordan, who was the prosecutor on Mr. Wood's case and now is a defense attorney.
Mr. Wood, who is 46 and raises show dogs, said he has avoided prison by having top-flight legal counsel and building good relations with probation officers. His sentence is set to expire at the end of May.
One of his prominent lawyers, George Milner Jr., "had to go see the judge on something else" last year, Mr. Wood said, and agreed to seek early release from probation. Mr. Milner reported back that Judge Dean "couldn't do the early release but would do this other deal" -- postcard probation.
"We didn't ask for that," Mr. Wood said. "It was a compromise."
Judge Dean said such requests are generally handled informally, with prosecutors getting only an oral alert. He said he bases his decisions on recommendations from his probation officers.
Probation records show that Mr. Wood failed five drug tests, but public court files mention only two. It's unclear why there is a discrepancy or which records Judge Dean reviewed.
Letting a killer stay free after several failed drug tests is "unheard of with this judge," former probation officer Don Ford said. And "life in prison for smoking a joint -- that's harsh in any case."
Judge Dean usually let defendants like Mr. Brown off with a warning the first time they tested positive for marijuana, Mr. Ford said. A second such test failure typically meant two days in jail.
The Brown Crime
Tyrone Brown's story began on a February night in 1990. A child-abuse victim and high school dropout from Oak Cliff, he was roaming the upper Greenville Avenue area with another 17-year-old.
They spied Bill Hathaway walking home from his restaurant job. According to police and court records, Mr. Brown's friend pointed a pistol at Mr. Hathaway and demanded money. (In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Mr. Brown said he was the one who held the gun.)
The records say Mr. Hathaway handed his wallet to Mr. Brown, who removed the cash -- two $1 bills. The victim asked for his wallet back and got it.
The men parted ways. Mr. Hathaway called police, who quickly caught the two robbers nearby and returned his money.
There was no trial. Judge Dean soon accepted guilty pleas from both teens and assessed the same sentence: 10 years of deferred-adjudication probation.
Under this increasingly common approach to jurisprudence, a judge finds that there is evidence to convict someone but doesn't. Defendants who complete probation successfully end up with no criminal record.
However, if they break the rules of supervision, the judge can revoke their probation, convict them of the original charge and sentence them to prison.
Mr. Brown tested positive for marijuana in May 1990, a month after starting probation. Prosecutors filed a revocation motion -- the standard response -- but made no sentencing recommendation.
At a hearing in early June, Mr. Brown's court-appointed lawyer asked Judge Dean to send the youth to boot camp, where defendants typically spend a few months under military-style rules before returning to probation.
The judge, according to a transcript, did not address that proposal. Nor did he mention Mr. Brown's juvenile record (he was charged with exposing himself to a woman, for example, and got caught riding in a stolen car).
Judge Dean simply reminded the teen that prosecutors initially recommended a five-year prison sentence instead of probation, "and I told you ... that you wouldn't see anything like that five years if you got in more trouble." Then he pronounced the life sentence and added, "Good luck, Mr. Brown."
Defense attorney Matt Fry did not protest, the transcript shows.
In an interview, he said he did not remember the case and had no record of it. Renie McClellan, a court-appointed lawyer who represented Mr. Brown in a failed appeal, said she, too, had no memory or record of the matter.
Mr. Brown's family did not attend the hearing and did not believe him when, in a phone call from jail, he explained what had happened.
"He told me they gave him life and I said, 'Life for what?' " recalled his mother, Nora Brown. "I almost had a heart attack."
Mr. Hathaway, the robbery victim, knew nothing about the case's outcome until contacted recently by The News. He, too, was astounded.
"Goodness gracious," he said in a phone call from Virginia, where he now lives. "You have got to be kidding me. ... Nobody touched me at all."
Meanwhile, Mr. Brown's co-defendant, Lewis Bivins, also got in trouble while on probation -- he pleaded guilty to car theft. Judge Dean sent him to boot camp and let him return to probation.
Only after Mr. Bivins committed two further crimes -- burglary and another robbery -- did the judge send him to prison. He, too, is now serving a life sentence.
The Wood Crime
John Alexander Wood's journey toward Judge Dean's courtroom began on a March evening in 1995. He picked up a 22-year-old hustler named Larry Clark on an Oak Lawn street, and they went to Mr. Wood's nearby home.
Police reports, citing Mr. Wood's statements and physical evidence, say the two men had sex, for which Mr. Wood paid $30. Afterward, Mr. Clark asked for a ride home, but Mr. Wood balked and demanded his money back. A fight ensued.
Mr. Clark ran into the back yard, which was enclosed by a high fence. Mr. Wood, using a small semiautomatic pistol, fatally shot him from behind and took the money from Mr. Clark's pocket.
Mr. Wood, who had no criminal history, initially pleaded not guilty to murder and went to trial in 1996. As jurors were about to conclude deliberations, the prosecution and defense cut a deal that Judge Dean approved: The defendant pleaded guilty to murder in exchange for 10 years of deferred-adjudication probation.
Jury forewoman Dana Toney said the plea bargain didn't change much. Jurors, she said, believed the killing was an accident, were close to convicting Mr. Wood of negligent homicide and would have been happy to put him on probation.
There is no court transcript of the case because there were no appeals, but Ms. Toney said the defense argument went like this: Mr. Wood feared Mr. Clark, who was high on drugs, and fired a warning shot that he hoped would scare the man off. He stumbled when pulling the trigger, making the gun point toward Mr. Clark.
Mr. Wood largely agreed with this summary, although he told The News that he shot Mr. Clark in the side as the man turned toward him.
"It was sort of a self-defense type of situation," Mr. Wood said. "Judge Dean understood this."
The official autopsy shows that Mr. Clark was shot in the back.
Mr. Jordan, who was the prosecutor, said he agreed to the plea because he sensed that jurors were sympathetic to Mr. Wood. And indeed they were.
"Alex came across as very boyish -- a little-boy haircut, combed over, and big glasses," Ms. Toney said. "He didn't look like the kind of guy who would go around shooting people in the back."
Ms. Toney said she attends Prestonwood Baptist Church and was swayed by prominent Baptist defense witnesses. They included Mr. Wood's father, John Alvin Wood, who was a former pastor of First Baptist Church in Waco; and the Rev. O.S. Hawkins, who was pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas.
"You see O.S. Hawkins, a pillar in the community, stand up and put his own reputation on the line," she said. "It carried a lot of weight."
The prosecution had no such star witnesses. Mr. Clark, the slain man, was orphaned as a little boy in Alabama -- his father drank himself to death; his mother, after remarrying, died of injuries from a car accident. He had maternal grandparents in rural North Texas, but the prosecutor's efforts to get them to court failed.
So to establish the victim's identity for jurors, Mr. Jordan had to summon a Dallas police officer who once arrested Mr. Clark for prostitution.
That opened the door to questions about criminal history, which led back to a sordid tale that the grandparents hadn't told the prosecutor about.
After his mother died, Mr. Clark was raised in Oxford, Ala., by his stepfather, whom relatives today describe as an abusive drug dealer. When Mr. Clark reached his mid-teens, he killed the man and buried him in a shallow backyard grave.
Oxford Assistant Chief Ron Herbowy, who investigated the killing, said: "You couldn't help but like the boy. You almost felt sorry for him."
A juvenile judge concurred, first refusing to send Mr. Clark to adult court for trial and later sentencing him to probation instead of detention.
But jurors in Dallas came to see Mr. Clark as the predatory half of the equation, even though Mr. Wood was the only armed party. Ms. Toney's conclusion: "You almost feel like [Mr. Wood] did the world a favor" by killing Mr. Clark.
Mr. Clark's grandmother, Jane Peel, said she didn't attend the trial because she was overwhelmed by grief. Her grandson, who'd lived with her and at other area locations in the months before his death, was her last living link to her daughter.
Ms. Peel, now a widow, said she has come to believe that Mr. Wood got probation for murder because of his prominent father.
And "it was two gays," she added. "According to everyone, [her grandson] was a nobody.
"But that's not true. He was somebody who was loved."
The Wood Aftermath
The prosecutor, Mr. Jordan, said he made his peace with the plea bargain because he expected Mr. Wood to break the rules of probation. That's because witnesses such as John Orr, the killer's landlord and employer, told authorities he had an explosive temper and once threatened to kill a co-worker.
Mr. Jordan was right about the rule breaking. But "it looks like somebody turned a blind eye," he said.
Mr. Wood successfully completed nearly three years of probation before testing positive, in March 1999, for cocaine use. It was the first in a long series of troubles, probation records show.
Two months later, at 5 o'clock in the morning, Waco police stopped Mr. Wood for a minor traffic violation and found crack cocaine on the floor of the old Ford Crown Victoria he was driving. The license plate was HOUSE 11A -- one of the numbers assigned to U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards.
Mr. Edwards, a Waco Democrat who remains in office, is married to Mr. Wood's sister. He told The News he was in Washington at the time and had left the car in a friend's care; he said he didn't know whether Mr. Wood had asked to borrow it. The friend, real estate agent Cindy Evans, said she didn't recall.
The police reports say Mr. Wood, when asked what he and a passenger were doing in the neighborhood where he was arrested, claimed that a maid had asked him to bring her a prescription from a 24-hour pharmacy. The woman he identified was a drug dealer, according to the reports.
But Mr. Wood told The News that he was in the area to pick up the passenger, a male friend who "was in all kinds of trouble." He said that he hadn't known there was crack in the car and that the friend must have put it there.
At the time, Mr. Wood was living in Waco. Probation officials there had been supervising him, as a courtesy to their Dallas County counterparts. Now they washed their hands of him.
Dallas County took over supervision but, contrary to state standards, let Mr. Wood keep living in Waco. He was assigned to a program in which a probation officer is supposed to make surprise visits to high-risk offenders instead of letting them report to a county office -- yet records show that Mr. Wood, 100 miles away, got no visits.
Dallas prosecutors asked Judge Dean to revoke his probation, citing the arrest and the cocaine test failure. But there was no quick ruling, as there had been after Tyrone Brown tested positive for marijuana.
The judge, a Republican, left the matter pending for several months, with Mr. Wood free on bail. Meanwhile, he failed two more drug tests in the summer of 1999 -- both times after denying that he was still using cocaine, according to probation records.
Such false denials are supposed to lead to revocation of probation, the judge's written policies say. But Judge Dean let him go to a private inpatient treatment center instead of prison.
Mr. Wood's next break came while he was at the center, in Minnesota: The district attorney's office in Waco dropped the possession case against him and his friend, Steve Canuteson.
Prosecutor Antonio Piña said his records show that he lacked evidence to convict Mr. Wood. He said he let Mr. Canuteson go because he pleaded guilty to an unrelated charge.
When arrested, each suspect had told officers that the drugs belonged to the other, police reports say. Most such cases result in the conviction of both defendants, prosecution and defense experts told The News.
"When they point fingers at each other, I prosecute them both if I've got a good case," Mr. Piña said. He said he didn't have records that detailed the evidence problems and didn't recall the matter.
Mr. Canuteson, who lived with Mr. Wood in 1999, told The News that they both avoided prosecution because "it was Chet Edwards' car." He did not elaborate beyond saying that "Alex had extreme political ties. I met Chet Edwards so many times."
Mr. Piña said the Edwards connection "never came into the picture. ... I would remember that."
Mr. Edwards said he didn't recall meeting Mr. Canuteson and had no contact with authorities on the matter.
"I have never made a single phone call, talked to a single official or testified in any way in behalf of Alex," he said. "It would be totally inappropriate."
Mr. Edwards said he was angry with his brother-in-law over the arrest and believes that "Alex should be treated by the judicial system in the same way as any other citizen. ... [It] should not give preferential treatment to anyone for any reasons."
In early 2000, Judge Dean dismissed the probation-revocation request at Dallas County prosecutors' request. Rachel Horton, District Attorney Bill Hill's spokeswoman, said it is not clear why the office sought the dismissal.
By April of that year, Mr. Wood was back in trouble. A police report says he broke a glass door to enter the Rowlett home of Margaret Worth, whom he knew from dog-show circles, and demanded a puppy they both claimed to own.
Dallas County prosecutors filed another probation-revocation motion, then withdrew it after Ms. Worth decided to drop charges. She told The News she backed down after Mr. Wood's father proposed a deal: "I'd keep the puppy if I dropped the charges."
Ms. Worth's take on the son, who has long lived off his parents' wealth: "Rules just don't apply to him."
In January 2001, Mr. Wood failed a drug test for the fourth time -- again after denying that he was using cocaine. Records show that a probation officer then warned that if he "even had the belief that [Mr. Wood] was still using drugs," a motion would be filed recommending a prison sentence.
It turned out to be an idle threat. In March 2001, a probation officer found evidence that Mr. Wood had diluted his urine to pass a test, but there were no consequences.
And in early 2002, he tested positive for the fifth time. Judge Dean let him stay free without even paying cash bail, let him go to another drug-treatment center instead of prison, and afterward even let him travel to Italy.
Probation officials apparently didn't touch base with Waco police, where there were emerging and persistent danger signs.
Mr. Wood, for example, had been living with at least two men who had multiple criminal convictions. One rule of probation was that he avoid people of "disreputable or harmful character."
Probation officers "never knew about it," Mr. Wood said. "Basically [the men] were homeless, and I was too nice and let them camp out here, and it caused me trouble."
At different times in recent years, he has accused the men of stealing from him, then told Waco police that he didn't want to prosecute. He accused one of the men of threatening him in an effort to collect a debt.
Last summer, shortly after Judge Dean gave him the one-postcard-a-year deal, Mr. Wood and one of the housemates vanished for a time. So did an SUV and credit card belonging to Mr. Wood's father.
The father complained to police but didn't follow through on pressing charges. Instead, he called an officer and said "his son had been dropped off at his residence [with the SUV] and was heavily sedated and couldn't talk."
Early this year, Mr. Wood summoned police because the same housemate had tried to kill himself with a drug overdose. The man, Mr. Wood told officers, had recently stepped outside their home with a gun "hoping that the police would show up and shoot and kill him."
Mr. Wood told The News he is now volunteering as a drug counselor at Mission Waco, a high-profile charity. But the agency's executive director, Jimmy Dorrell, said Mr. Wood hasn't even gone though the application process and, because of the murder, couldn't pass a background check.
The Brown Aftermath
All the while Mr. Wood has been free, Tyrone Brown has been behind bars. He hasn't been a model prisoner.
He started taking classes to finish his high school education, but quit. He joined a gang -- "the closest thing to my family," he said. He fought with guards, which led to solitary confinement. He flirted with suicide.
And he found out he has a daughter -- his girlfriend in Dallas, it turned out, had been pregnant when his probation was revoked. His little girl is now a teenager, almost as old as he was back when Judge Dean wished him luck in prison.
"She got past the stage where she'd cry every time she'd think about him," said her mother, Omika Saulters. Still, "she talks about her daddy all the time. She asks, 'Is he ever coming home?' "
Mr. Brown has learned to talk a little about his own father, who has never visited him in prison.
"He beat us so bad," the prisoner told The News. Juvenile court records say he and a brother spent a year in foster care because of the father's violence toward them and their mother.
The mom, Nora Brown, tells him that Christian faith is the way to survive prison's hell.
"Where's your God at now?" he once fired back at her in a letter. But they've patched things up some since then.
"I tell him, 'You've got to show those people you're not there to make it your home,' " said Ms. Brown, who can show you the scar near one eye where her ex-husband hit her with a candlestick. " 'You've got to show them you want to get out of there.' "
In the last couple of years, Mr. Brown has cleaned up his act and renounced his gang ties, prison officials said. He spends much of his time reading -- everything from Stephen King to self-help books to a thesaurus -- and he writes poetry.
He's eligible for parole in 2009. The only way to get out sooner, state officials said, would be for Gov. Rick Perry to commute his sentence.
"I am on the verge of giving up completely," Mr. Brown admitted, "because I am tired of holding on to nothing. I've been trying to hold on for over 15 years, but for the most part I've been by myself."
Sentenced To Life In Prison For Failing A Urine Test
My name is Tyrone Brown, better known as T Baby to some. At age 17 I was sentenced to an aggravated life sentence in prison for smoking marijuana while on probation.
Now I know that may sound absurd and hard to believe because it sounded the same to me also when Judge Keith Dean in Dallas, Texas handed down his order more than 14 years ago. I soon realized that just like the marijuana smoke I consumed, my life was also to be consumed by these years behind bars.
I'm not some flawless star. I have my faults like everyone else. Throughout my young life I warred with myself, trying to grasp something or someone solid to hold onto, someone to show me the right way.
Tyrone with his daughter, Elaine
I was regularly sent to special schools and placed in special classes. Stealing cars and other things only led me into juvenile jails, until age 17 when I was charged with aggravated robbery-my first and only criminal charge as an adult.
After a few months in jail, I was given a 10-year deferred sentence and ordered to submit to conditions of probation. Two months later I was ordered to submit to a urinalysis test -- the results showing I had smoked marijuana. The Dallas Court revoked my probation, and I was sentenced to life in prison.
Now, as a black man at age 31, I believe that not being able to communicate with people somehow played a major part in how I lived as a youth. Even today it's hard for me to communicate with my family, my mother, aunt and daughter. It's a feeling no one should have to endure without end. But I have learned to write and through poetry, short stories and essays I sometimes feel I'm saying something.
I mostly write when I'm angry, sad or depressed -- when I try to lose myself between the lines of a page. I've tried suicide a few times without success over the last 14 years. What am I to make of a life filled with failure, including failing to end my life? As I think now, I'm pretty much grateful for those botched efforts.
When every waking hour is ruled by depressing thoughts, it's hard to say exactly what the next day has hiding around its corners. So I try to take it step by step.
I'm haunted at night by the 1990 day when the Judge ordered me to do my life in prison. Why didn't he order me into a drug rehabilitation program? I never had any demand put on me to rehabilitate myself, nor told how I could lean on the shoulder of the State for help with my "addiction" to marijuana.
Who can say, certainly not the Texas Courts, what course my life would have taken if I had been able to grow up on the outside? I want to say to anyone in a situation similar to mine in 1990 that you must learn everything you can about your case -- and don't be afraid to ask lots of questions. My biggest mistake was being unable and unwilling to communicate with my attorney about options and to ask him how well he knew his job.
My family lives almost 200 miles away, and I see my 13-year-old daughter once or twice a year. My mom tries to bring her and her mother to see me, but I haven't had a visit in almost two and one-half years.
No matter how the rest of my life turns out, I give special thanks to all the people and staff of November Coalition for their honest attempt to open the minds of citizens to the unjust drug laws. Let's not let this difficult work to reclaim lives be for nothing. I would enjoy corresponding with anyone interested in my life and writing.
Tyrone submitted the following poems with the story you've just read:
Moma, I love you (written 7/04/01)
Moma, you are the love of my life
One of a kind, beautiful and unique
May the hand of our father God hold you within reach
Always and forever, your love I will find
In the deepest recess of my heart.
Like a diamond it will shine
On days so dull, and full of gloom
Visions of your love is what makes life bloom
Endless times of fun we'd had.
You were always there when days seemed sad
Only you could ease the pains I felt
Understand the tears when I broke down and wept
That's the reason why your love stands true and the reason why I say:
Moma, I love you!
Trapped (written 9/26/03)
Trapped in these shackles, my steps are limited
Though my journey be long, I will not surrender
The days are a year, and the years are forever.
Lonely is my enemy, deep as the sea.
Will I drown in sorrow, that love with no heart?
Who can I call to caress my fears?
God left on vacation, but I dialed him first.
My anger is loud, but my hopes are louder.
Four steps is all I am allowed to take
For the shackles are a bridle that holds me tight.
The walls are closing in; my breath is shallow.
Will I survive? Why shouldn't I?
Bound, but not broken, another step, though small
My thoughts are guarded; my dreams are just illusions.
But they are mine in which I am trapped
Sunlight smiled before my eyelids - another day.
Four more steps closer to the door
A sigh of frustration, a silent prayer
Another step, though small
But I am still trapped.
Blind Love (written 5/26/04)
Blind -- no thoughts wasted
A wicked sneer that bites
Love smiles with a frown that can't see
Hate caressed love into laughter
And love kissed hate with passion.
Blind -- but no sight, darkness
Tears from the sky, or is it rain?
Does God cry, can he feel my pain?
Joy slapped kindness in the face
And peace wiped her eyes.
Blind love -- but love, love nobody
Who am I, save a nothing that can't be?
Why dwell on love that can't see?
When hate is pure, ready for the taking.
My eyes are open, but I'm blind to love.
Suicide (written 5/26/04)
Thoughts of nothing, darkness so deep
Visions of sleep, but too steep.
Feelings so bleak, no feelings to feel
Deep is the pain, blue like rain.
But who cares, surely not time
Who'll understand the mind of a mime?
Time doesn't care, nor patience wait.
Hate is my fate, anger on my plate.
My journey is a hearse where I am trapped.
No escape from this void, no way out.
Love is only a word that can never love back
Blind to the beholder, wonder to the curious.
Death is my only option, my only love.
Embrace me darkness, caress me softly
My mind is tired; my soul is blue.
My heart is troubled, what's left to do
But to die? Don't cry.
Blood trickles slowly down my eyes.
No one home, all alone.
Time stopped ticking,
Now my journey here is almost done.
In a grassroots response to Tyrone's story, a group of outraged citizens formed a grassroots group to help publicize Tyrone's case, calling themselves "Good Luck, Mr. Brown" (Since Ty's release, that web site is no longer up.)
Back to the Wall
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Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines
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