A presidential pardon is the latest step in an Atlanta woman’s remarkable attempt to rebuild her life.
Serena Denise Nunn was once a symbol of what some see as a failing of the justice system, and now she is somebody who works in that system. She could now have an even bigger role, thanks to the pardon, one of two that President Barack Obama gave to Georgians on Monday.
In all, Obama pardoned 78 people and commuted the sentences of 153 others, including two more Georgians.
Nunn was convicted in 1990 in Minneapolis of being a minor part of a major drug conspiracy and was sentenced to more than 15 years in federal prison.
Caught up in the mandatory-minimum sentencing requirements of the time, Nunn became a prime example of how the War on Drugs’ did not always mete out justice commensurate with the crime.
In 2011, Nunn was the subject of a story by ProPublica.
It told how she was first imprisoned in Kentucky before being moved to a prison in Arizona. Eight years after her sentencing, a newspaper told her story as part of a bigger article on mandatory minimum sentences.
A lawyer who saw that story then offered to represent Nunn free of charge.
He filed a petition for a presidential commutation, which would end her prison sentence. Supporting the petition were the governor of Minnesota, Nunn’s home state, as well as the sentencing judge.
In 2001, President Bill Clinton commuted her sentence. Nunn told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune that she never claimed innocence.
“I never feigned I was innocent,” she told the paper. “I’m not saying I shouldn’t have been punished. All I’m saying is, should I have received the sentence I did if other things could have been considered?”
Nunn then graduated from college and earned a law degree from the University of Michigan. In 2012, she passed the Georgia Bar exam, and she now works in the Fulton County Public Defender’s Office. But she couldn’t actually practice law because of her conviction.
Now, with Obama’s pardon, she has a chance at becoming a full-fledged attorney.
Also pardoned Monday was Juleen Nicole Henry of Duluth, who was convicted in Michigan in 2001 of conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
The president also commuted the sentence of Orasama Andrews of Jackson and Ralph McIver of Crescent.
Andrews, who was given a life sentence for distribution of cocaine, will serve a total of 15 years and six months. McIver was convicted in 1998 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, three counts of distribution of cocaine and attempt to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. McIver will go free in April.
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