(CN) — Thanks to a decision Thursday by Louisiana’s Committee on Parole, a 63-year-old Black man will no longer serve a life sentence behind bars for taking a pair of hedge clippers more than two decades ago.
In a hearing held over the videoconferencing software Zoom, a three-member panel of the parole board voted unanimously Thursday morning to grant early release to Fair Wayne Bryant with certain conditions, including that he attends Alcohol Anonymous meetings.
Dressed in a blue button-down shirt, grey hoodie and glasses, Bryant apologized to the owners of a utility shed for “interrupting and disturbing them at 3 o’clock that morning.”
The state convicted Bryant for one count of attempted simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling after an owner of the shed chased him out of the structure one night in January 1997. When Bryant was caught, police found a pair of hedge clippers inside his van.
Because it was Bryant’s fifth felony conviction, he was labeled a habitual offender and the state sentenced him to life in prison and hard labor. His sentence carried with it no possibility of probation, parole or suspension in sentence before the law changed in 2018.
The Louisiana Supreme Court declined to review his case in August. But Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson, the court’s first Black chief justice, drew attention to Bryant’s case in her dissent, saying his sentence may have been “unconstitutionally excessive” and drew parallels to it and the harsh so- called pig laws that increased the Black prison population in the South following Reconstruction, named after crimes like stealing farm animals.
Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have highlighted Bryant’s case in arguments for sentencing reform.
During the Thursday’s hearing, committee member Tony Marabella noted Bryant had a “horrible criminal record” and members of law enforcement and the victims opposed Bryant’s release.
And while Marabella said he had reservations about releasing Bryant over answers he gave about his attitude over past drug use, he said he had faith in the Louisiana Parole Project, which said it would help Bryant through his transition.
“There’s no question in my mind your heart and your head are in the right place,” Marabella said.