VOL. 133 | NO. 114 | Thursday, June 7, 2018
Last Word: The Commutation, Tuition Freeze and Blackburn and Sundquist
By Bill Dries
Alice Marie Johnson walked out of a federal prison in Alabama Wednesday after serving 21 years of a life prison sentence for dealing drugs and laundering money as part of a Memphis drug ring with Texas connections in the 1990s. Johnson’s release came the same day that President Donald Trump commuted her life sentence less than a week after he met with reality television personality Kim Kardashian West who appealed for Johnson’s release. Here is the Associated Press story.
U.S. Attorney Michael Dunavant’s response here in Memphis: “As United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and to faithfully execute and enforce the laws of Congress. Included in our Constitution is the absolute power and authority of the President to grant Executive Clemency relief, and I understand and respect the President’s decision to grant a commutation of Ms. Johnson’s sentence. Vigorous and consistent federal prosecution of violations of the Controlled Substances Act, including major drug trafficking organizations and money laundering schemes, are a top priority of this office and the Department of Justice, and we will continue to promote public safety and enforce the rule of law in the Western District of Tennessee by aggressively pursuing such cases.”
Dunavant was not U.S. Attorney 22 years ago when a jury convicted Johnson on eight counts of conspiracy, drug dealing and money laundering – along with three codefendants. Efforts by her attorneys to have her life sentenced reduced under terms of the 2014 legislation that acknowledged a disparity in federal prison sentences for crack cocaine as opposed to powder cocaine were all denied by courts. And federal prosecutors here opposed any move to reduce her life sentence based on the level of money laundering and the amounts of drugs involved in the charges. Johnson through her attorneys said it was a one-time slip and spiral when she lost her job at FedEx.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen was among those who advocated for a commutation of Johnson’s sentence. On Twitter Wednesday Cohen tweeted: #Commutations shouldn't be based on the star power of an endorser, but on the inequity of a sentence.I wrote Obama in support of #AliceMarieJohnson's commutation,but encouraged thousands&thousands more based on inequitable sentences.#justicereform #Pardons https://bit.ly/2HpKU0z The bitly link is copy of Cohen 2015 letter supporting a commutation of Johnson’s sentence.
Chalkbeat on the fall of former Trezevant High football coach Teli White in the SCS grade-changing scandal. The SCS board Wednesday afternoon denied an appeal by White of his dismissal.
At the University of Memphis trustees meeting Wednesday, the board voted to freeze tuition for the next year after a 2.6 percent tuition hike this year. The freeze recommended by U of M president David Rudd puts tuition at $9,700 for a student taking 15 credit hours. And the trustees approved raising the campus minimum wage for full-time employees to $10.60 an hour from the current $10.10 an hour. Rudd described the raise he recommended as incremental and to be followed by further pay steps. The action follows the approval of a $15 an hour minimum wage for Shelby County Schools full timers and $15.50 an hour for full-time city of Memphis employees.
The role of volunteers in the FedEx St. Jude Golf Classic could change after this year's tournament at Southwind and a move of the event from June to August.
Rocky Top’s settlement with its ousted chancellor is a done deal at a $1.33 million settlement.
As the FedEx St. Jude Classic gets underway Thursday, Don Wade looks at the volunteer force that is as much a part of the golf classic as the golf itself. And that may change once this year’s tournament ends.
Our Nashville correspondent Sam Stockard on the political relationship between Republican U.S. Senate contender Marsha Blackburn and former Governor Don Sundquist, who is backing Blackburn in the statewide Senate race that is on the Nov. 6 ballot.
International Paper calls it a day on its bid to buy the largest cardboard box manufacturer in Europe – for now.
Regalia to Laurelwood for Lori James.
No let-up in Arkansas’s dicamba ban.
The Chicago Tribune on an Elvis-themed musical “Heartbreak Hotel” that hits the stage at the end of this month in Chicago. The characters in what is billed as a “musical adventure” run deep in the canon of Elvis lore including Sally Winbourn and Dixie Locke with a dash of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Ruth Brown thrown in.
The Broadway World website version of this says the theatrical venture is a partnership with Authentic Brands Group, which is the company Joel Weinshanker, managing partner of Graceland Holding is associated with.