MORGANTOWN – Jan. 20 marked the beginning of the Trump presidency and the end of a federal clemency initiative launched in 2014 that freed 1,715 nonviolent inmates but left nearly 3,500 pardon requests pending when the Obama administration ended.
Bryant Cook, Andre Scales and Richard Ashbaugh, clients of the Clinical Law Program at West Virginia University School of Law, were among those inmates who did not receive a response to their petition.
“My guess is that the Obama administration simply did not get to all of the petitions,” Valena Beety, associate professor at WVU’s College of Law, recently told The West Virginia Record. “And (clemency) is not a priority for the new administration, so the petitions are just sitting there.” The school’s efforts did win early release for Nathaniel Law, who was granted clemency on Dec. 20.
The law clinic recently began representing Ashbaugh at the request of the Washington, D.C. attorney who handled his clemency petition. They asked the law clinic to become Ashbaugh’s counsel and file a Holloway motion to request resentencing in the West Virginia circuit court district where he was convicted.
“It really is a Hail Mary,” Beety said. “We’re making the same argument as the clemency petition that Mr. Ashbaugh is a nonviolent offender, that he would receive a lesser sentence today.”
Ashbaugh, a drug addict, was sentenced to a minimum 20 years in prison for selling heroin to an individual who overdosed. Today, that crime would receive a minimum sentence of 10 years, which Ashbaugh has already served.
The original prosecutor in Ashbaugh’s case is not opposing the law clinic’s motion because “Mr. Ashbaugh stepped up immediately and took responsibility and was very remorseful …” Beety said.
While the Pardon Office of the Department of Justice (DOJ) accepts clemency petitions on a continuing basis, announcement of the clemency initiative on April 23, 2014, spurred an “influx of petitions larger than that received during any previous administration,” according to the DOJ website.
The law school may consider submitting additional Holloway motions for other inmates who met the clemency initiative standards, but whose petitions were never reviewed.
“The bar was set high (for the initiative) and they met the requirements, so there is the possibility of success,” Beety said. “They are strong candidates not just for release, but for success in the community.”