Politics: Trump has granted clemency to Alice Johnson, freeing the 63-year-old grandmother whose case was championed by Kim Kardashian


Alice Marie Johnson is serving a life sentence in prison for first-time, nonviolent drug offenses.

President Donald Trump has granted clemency to Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother imprisoned for life because of non-violent drug offenses. Her case was highlighted by Kim Kardashian.

  • President Donald Trump has granted clemency to Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother imprisoned for life because of non-violent drug offenses.
  • Trump granted the clemency one week after he met with Kim Kardashian West, who has publicly championed Johnson's case.
  • Johnson told Business Insider the previous day that she was still waiting with bated breath for news of Trump's decision: “I'm hanging in here and won't let go until I walk out of these doors!”

Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother who was serving a life sentence in prison for non-violent drug offenses she committed in the 1990s, will finally be free.

President Donald Trump commuted Johnson's sentence on Wednesday, the White House confirmed in a statement. The move came one week after Trump met with the reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, who has been championing her release for months.

“Ms. Johnson has accepted responsibility for her past behavior and has been a model prisoner over the past two decades. Despite receiving a life sentence, Alice worked hard to rehabilitate herself in prison, and act as a mentor to her fellow inmates,” the White House statement said. “While this Administration will always be very tough on crime, it believes that those who have paid their debt to society and worked hard to better themselves while in prison deserve a second chance.”

Kardashian West and her attorney Shawn Holley won a highly sought-after meeting with Trump after weeks of negotiations with Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, Business Insider previously reported. The talks came shortly after Kardashian West's husband, rapper Kanye West, made waves in the media for declaring his fervent support for Trump.

Johnson's daughter Catina Scales told Business Insider on Wednesday she was en route to pick up her mother from the Aliceville correctional facility, where she expected to be released today.

“I have been literally shaking ever since I heard this news — this is the best present anyone could have gave me in my life,” she said. “Nothing will ever trump this feeling.”

Johnson told Business Insider on Tuesday that she had been waiting with bated breath since Trump and Kardashian West's meeting for news about her case.

“I'm still waiting to exhale!” she said in an email from prison. “I'm hanging in here and won't let go until I walk out of these doors!”

Kardashian West took to Twitter on Wednesday to celebrate the news:

Johnson has corresponded with Business Insider regularly in recent months about the recent developments on her case, and said Kardashian West's involvement was nothing short of miraculous.

“I don't even know myself what emotions I will really feel when this happens,” Johnson said in April. “She has embraced my cause and taken to heart my plight. Kim has been my war angel, and I'll never forget what she is doing for me.”

Kardashian West leater added a follow-up tweet thanking Trump and Kushner for their efforts on Johnson's case.

“So grateful to @realDonaldTrump, Jared Kushner & to everyone who has showed compassion & contributed countless hours to this important moment for Ms. Alice Marie Johnson,” she tweeted. “Her commutation is inspirational & gives hope to so many others who are also deserving of a second chance.”

'Wholeness for me and my family again'

Johnson's case has long been held up as an overwhelmingly worthy clemency candidate by legal experts, lawyers, prison staff members, and criminal-justice reform advocates.

Though Johnson petitioned former President Barack Obama for clemency three times, she was always denied.

“My family has been broken beyond what anyone can imagine,” Johnson said last month. “A commutation would mean wholeness for me and my family again.”

She has been described not only as an extreme example of the type of harsh mandatory-minimum sentencing that emerged in the 1980s and '90s to punish drug crimes, but as the embodiment of a reformed and repentant prisoner with the skills and support to successfully re-enter society.

Johnson is an ordained minister, a playwright, a mentor, a counselor, a tutor, and a companion for inmates who are suicidal, and she didn't commit a single disciplinary infraction in two decades in prison, staff members at Aliceville who have supported her clemency said in several letters in 2016 viewed by Business Insider.

Kardashian West first took an interest in Johnson's case last October, when she saw a viral video published by Mic, in which Johnson gave an interview via Skype. Kardashian West shared the video with her 60 million Twitter followers, and retained Holley to work on Johnson's case.

“Alice's case appeals to Kim (and most people who hear about it) because her sentence was so disproportionate to her crime,” Holley told Business Insider last month. “Alice was a first-time offender, convicted of a non-violent crime and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. She had served 21 years at the time we first learned about her case.”

Holley added that Kardashian West was intricately involved throughout the efforts to secure Johnson's freedom, and would often discuss strategy with Holley up to several times a day.

The path to win clemency from Trump

Johnson's clemency is a striking move for Trump, who had previously granted just five pardons and one commutation in the first year and a half of his presidency.

All seven of Trump's clemencies so far have been granted to defendants whose cases have drummed up significant support from conservatives or celebrities.

While pardons essentially forgive people who have been convicted of crimes and restore some of their rights, a commutation reduces prisoners' sentences, usually freeing them immediately.

Last week, Trump unexpectedly pardoned Dinesh D'Souza, the far-right political pundit and vehement Trump supporter who pleaded guilty in 2014 to campaign finance violations. Trump also made waves by announcing to reporters that he was considering pardoning Martha Stewart and commuting the sentence of the former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

In late May, Trump also granted a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, the American heavyweight boxing champion who was convicted of taking his white girlfriend across state lines in 1913. He died in 1946. Johnson's case was recommended to Trump by the actor Sylvester Stallone, who was in the Oval Office when Trump signed the pardon.

Jeffrey Crouch, an assistant professor at American University who studies presidential clemencies, said it's too early to discern a rhyme or reason to the pardons and commutations Trump has granted so far.

But he added he was struck by how few “average Americans” Trump had pardoned before Johnson, especially given the populist groundswell that lifted Trump to victory in 2016.

Last August, he pardoned Joe Arpaio, the bombastic ex-sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who vocally supported Trump throughout his 2016 presidential campaign, and who often parroted Trump's hardline stance on immigration.

In March, Trump pardoned Kristian Saucier, a former Navy sailor who took photos of classified areas inside a nuclear submarine. Saucier's case was widely cited among conservative media, who compared his case to Hillary Clinton, who used a private email server while she was secretary of state but wasn't prosecuted.

Trump also pardoned “Scooter” Libby, the former Bush official convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, and commuted the sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, a former meatpacking company executive convicted of bank fraud in an illegal labor scheme. Both cases received support from Congressional Republicans, and some Democrats also supported Rubashkin's case.

Crouch said there are still too few cases to thoroughly analyze Trump's use of executive clemency, but added that the public may already have deduced a pattern.

“The president can exercise clemency whenever he wants, as little or as much as he wants,” Crouch told Business Insider. “He should be aware that using clemency in the manner that he has so far can leave the impression that it's basically his political allies that show up on his radar.”