President Obama grants Florida man's "Hail Mary" clemency plea

- With little hope and nothing to lose, prison inmate Winston Wilkins threw a Hail Mary pass all the way to the White House.

"It's a Hail Mary and an extra quarter we didn't think we had," explained his attorney, Rachel Zysk.

Nearly two years ago, Zysk had joined a clemency project and had been working tirelessly on Wilkins' case and two others.  Recently, she got the bad news two of her clients had been denied clemency by President Obama.

"I had lost hope, I had lost hope," she recalled.

But on the last day of his presidency, President Obama fired off one last executive order.  First came an email, and then a phone call.

"'We need you to tell your client in 20 minutes that he has received a grant from President Obama.'  It was extraordinary," Zysk exclaimed.

Wilkins, she says, was in shock but thrilled.  His daughter couldn't believe it.

"She answered the phone and said, 'We didn't get it, did we?' And I said, 'We did, we did.' And I heard her drop the phone," Zysk continued.

Wilkins was convicted of selling crack cocaine to two undercover cops in 1997.  He got 30 years in prison and has already served 19 years of the sentence

The war on drugs in the 1980s led to stiff sentences and over-crowded prisons.  Decades later, in 2010, Congress took action after a strong push in the country to change outdated drug laws and sentencing rules.

Zysk says her client, under the new laws, would have already completed his sentence and be free.

"The quantity he was sentenced under, if he were sentenced today, he would have gotten approximately 10 to 15 years less. So he's already served the sentence he would have received today," she explained.

Now, Wilkins gets a do-over on life.

"It's a second chance but it's also righting a wrong that should have never existed in the first place," Zysk added.

Under Obama's clemency initiative, Wilkins will have to spend the next two years at a drug treatment facility before being released.
 

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