Backed by AG, man who dealt pot in 1994 seeks freedom

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A 69-year-old man who has been languishing in a Muskegon prison for 25 years after selling weed to an undercover police officer is scheduled to go before the state parole board this week as he seeks a commutation from the governor.

The hearing was scheduled after Michael Thompson got some high-profile support, including from the Michigan attorney general.

He was convicted under the now-infamous “three strikes” law when he sold three pounds of marijuana to an undercover officer in Flint in 1994. Police searched his home and discovered guns. He almost had a plea agreement, but now-retired Genesee Circuit Court Judge Judith Fullerton refused to entertain a deal, sending the case to trial. All that led to a 40- to 60-year prison sentence.

Since Michigan voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2018, Thompson’s case has become a cause for those who say holding people in prison for drug crimes is unfair. His supporters created a #FreeMichaelThompson Twitter hashtag and a website dedicated to his case.

Thompson’s daughter Rashawnda Littles said her father has been uplifted by the support.

“He was ecstatic, he was happy,” she said. “He wanted to thank everybody out here rooting for him.”

Even current Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton has joined in the call for Thompson to be released and has been working with his legal team. But perhaps the biggest boost came when Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel sent a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer explaining why she believes Thompson deserves clemency.

“Mr. Thompson has more than sufficiently paid for the crimes he committed and should be allowed to spend the remaining years of his life with his family and friends,” Nessel wrote.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen an attorney general put out a statement in a case this early in the process,” Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz noted.

While Thompson’s cause has become popular in recent years, his daughter has been fighting for it her entire adult life. Littles was 19 when her dad went to prison.

A courtesy photo of Rashwnda Littles.
A courtesy photo of Rashwnda Littles. Her shirt supports her father’s bid for freedom.

“He has grandchildren he has never met, he has great-grandchildren he has never met and I want him to come home. I don’t want him to be a story of sadness, I want him to be a story of success,” Littles said.

Adding to her drive to get her father out of prison: He is now among 607 Muskegon Correctional Facility prisoners and 11 staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19.

But neither the illness or the support means that he will be walking out of prison soon.

“The outside influences and the celebrity, things on Twitter and things like that that we’ve seen in the national spotlight, has no bearing on what the board is going to do,” Gautz said. “It is a very serious thing to overturn what a judge and a jury of someone’s peers have determined should be the appropriate sentence.”

Thompson will meet Thursday with one member of the state parole board, who will report to the full board. The board then has to schedule a public hearing and go through a myriad of steps before Thompson’s case could end up before the governor, a process that could easily continue into 2021.

He has applied for clemency four times before and his case went all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, which found that while the sentence was lengthy, it did not violate sentencing standards.

“This has been a long journey for him and it still is a long journey,” Littles said. “No one can imagine what he’s going through. No one can feel that pain for him. I cannot feel that pain for him.”