Black Man Sentenced To 1,823 Years Receives Pardon

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A Hampton, Virginia Black man sentenced to 1,823 years in prison will be released from prison after getting a pardon from Gov. Ralph Northam in his 1,832-year prison sentence.

In 2001, Lawrence Stephens was an 18-year-old homeless restaurant worker when he and a group of others pulled off a home invasion robbery –– in which his attorneys say no shots were fired and no one was injured. Stephens and others in the group were later arrested and tried in the York County Circuit Court for the crime.

York County Judge Prentis J. Smiley presided over the court proceedings and handed Stephens a prison sentence that defied state sentencing guidelines by hundreds of years, determining the then-teenager would spend 1,832 years behind bars.

According to WAVY 10 News, Smiley retired from the bench and died in 2008. Ten years earlier, a case he presided over made its way to the US Supreme Court leading to the 2002 decision prohibiting federal executions of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Twenty years ago, my family friend, Lawrence Jacob Stephens was sentenced to *1,823 years* in prison for a home invasion in which nobody died or was injured. Gov. Ralph Northam has officially pardoned him and he is coming home in 30 to 60 days.

— Victoria M. Walker (@vikkie) December 21, 2021

This year, Gaylene Kanoyton, president of the Hampton NAACP chapter brought in Rebecca Winn, legal redress chair to take a closer look at Stephens case to get a conditional pardon. The case is just one the advocates are looking into.

“Racism, it’s not a level playing field … we still have so many inmates in the same situation,” Kanoyton said.

Winn argued prosecutors did not present evidence to prove the full scope of Stephens’ involvement in the robbery which would have led to a harsher sentence than others in the group –– including Paul Melendres, the white mastermind behind the crime who received 10 years. Darnell Nolen, a Black 17-year-old at the time of the crime, was handed down a 35-year-sentence.

Additionally, the attorney appointed to defend Stephens was later found guilty by the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board of failing to properly represent his client.

The petition for Stephens’ pardon was filed in September and approved by Northam on December 17. After spending 19 years in prison, Stephens will be released in 30 to 60 days.

Reading about Black trauma can have an impact on your mental health. If you or someone you know need immediate mental health help, text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor. These additional resources are also available: 

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The Association of Black Psychologists 1-301-449-3082

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