After 20 Years in Prison, Missouri Man Serving Life Without Parole for Marijuana Asks Governor for Clemency
Jeff has tried the appeals process, but his family has been unable to afford private counsel, and he has either filed his own appeals or depended on overworked public defenders. Unsurprisingly, the appeals went nowhere.
But Chris, who still lives in Sedalia and works in a bar, has seen how Missourians, along with the rest of the country, have relaxed their views on marijuana: St. Louis decriminalized possession of less than 35 grams and U. City-based State Representative Rory Ellinger has said he wants to push a bill legalizing marijuana in Missouri like they do in Colorado. So about two years ago, he started attending Show-Me Cannabis meetings to talk to the pro-legalization crowd about his father's situation.
"What's happened to him isn't right," Chris tells Daily RFT. "And I just think people should know that this happens. My dad wasn't a violent man. People always tell me what a good guy he was. He worked hard. He doesn't deserve this. Who does?"
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Chris' words got the attention of Tony Nenninger, a Bourbon-based lawyer who practices general law but takes up civil rights cases from time to time. He says he became interested in helping when he heard Chris' desire to get his father out of prison.
"He wants to get to know his dad," Nenninger says. "And when he came to the meeting, he felt desperate and motivated and I took note of it."
After reviewing the case, Nenninger decided to take it up, despite the fact that criminal defense is not his area of expertise, much less life-without-parole sentence appeals.
"What they're doing to Jeff," says Nenninger, who has twice visited Mizanskey in prison since taking the case, "is cruel and unusual punishment. That's really the only way to explain it."
In a letter to the governor, Nenninger writes:
I am not aware of any other person in Missouri who is serving a life sentence for non-violent cannabis-only offenses. It is no secret that all recent major polls indicate over 50% of Americans, including Missourians, favor the complete legalization of adult use of marijuana. We are not asking you to commit to this new majority preference for cannabis legalization, but rather as Governor of Missouri to represent the current population's modern sociopolitical trends to liberalize marijuana laws in considering the commutation of Jeff's sentence.
When Jeff was sentenced on June 19, 1996 the population and the judiciary were guided by hysterical misinformation about cannabis that has since been clarified by more extensive science. Modern judicial sentencing practices reflect this science and the population's recognition that cannabis is not the scourge of society that it was once thought to be. It is reasonable for you to commute Jeff's sentence consistent with modern sentencing practices.
Nenninger's hope is that he can get enough people to write letters to Nixon that his attention will be caught. That might prove difficult, given that when he first dropped off his own letter at the governor's office in June, the clerk told him that there are more than 2,000 clemency pleas on file, and Nixon has yet to grant a single one.
But Nenninger is trying, anyway. He and Chris believe that if the governor looks at the case, he'll understand the absurdity of the situation.
"My father has seen people do much worse crimes and get out before him," Chris says. "It just doesn't make any sense."
Below is Nenninger's complete letter to Governor Nixon: