Human Rights

Grandpa Who Spent 22 Years in Prison for Ounce of Cocaine Finally Gets Clemency

The governor of Oklahoma finally sees the light.

A jail cell, dark with sunlight on the floor. Secure prison.
Photo Credit: TerryM

Activists have fought hard for many years to get Larry Yarbrough back his freedom. Their prayers were answered when Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin granted Yarbrough executive clemency on March 18, 2016.

Several years ago I wrote about Larry here at AlterNet in a piece titled, "How Three Joints and an ounce of Coke Got an Oklahoma Grandfather Life without Parole." Behind the scenes many individuals have fought hard for Larry, even meeting with Governor Fallin and asking her to show compassion for him. Mark Faulk did a moving documentary about Larry which showed the injustice of his case. And his lawyer Debbie Hampton fought tooth and nail for Larry, never giving up hope.

While in prison Larry Yarbrough has never had a single writeup. He has received commendations from the Department of Corrections and nonprofits for training guide dogs for the blind and disabled. He and his wife Norma are still married after 46 years. They have five children and 13 grandchildren, ranging in age from 9 months to 19 years. Before his incarceration, Larry and Norma owned and operated a popular BBQ restaurant in Kingfisher where he was known for giving back to his community.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt questioned a recent recommendation by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to commute the sentence of Larry, calling the decision a stab at public safety. Even though the medical cost of taking care of Larry last year was estimated to be over a million dollars, the AG refused to support Larry’s bid for freedom.

“The board’s decision to commute the sentence of a drug trafficker who pumped LSD, cocaine and marijuana into a community for more than 10 years is of grave concern,” Pruitt said. “Larry Yarbrough is not someone who made one bad choice and deserves a second chance; he is a five-time felon who was given multiple chances to do the right thing and continued to bring drugs, theft and intimidation into an Oklahoma community.” Yarbrough was sentenced to life without parole in 1997 after being convicted of his sixth felony. Governor Fallin ignored Pruitt and granted Yarbough his freedom through executive clemency. He had served 22 years in prison already.

Yarbough was in very bad health and a commutation was the only way that he would leave the prison alive. Through the kindness of Governor Fallin Larry can live out his days as a free man now. Gwendolyn Black an advocate for Larry was in tears when she heard the good news. " Thank GOD it's over and Larry now will be free to be with his family. It is not known at this time when Larry will be released.

Anthony Papa is the manager of media and artists relations for the Drug Policy Alliance. He is the author of This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency.

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