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Parole hearing held for man serving time for selling marijuana

WNEM Saginaw logo WNEM Saginaw 11/17/2020
a man sitting on a table © AnnMarie Kent

Nearly 25 years, that’s how long Michael Thompson, 69, has been behind bars.

“Michael absolutely holds a special place in my heart. He just radiates kindness and empathy; he is a very sweet person. He is eternally optimistic and positive despite suffering this monumental injustice,” said Sarah Gersten with Last Prisoner Project.

Thompson was caught selling three pounds of marijuana in the 90s. His Flint home was raided, and 13 guns were found. He wasn’t legally allowed to own any.

TV5 interviewed Thompson before his sentencing. “There’s been very little truth told,” Thompson said at that time. He said a lot of the allegations are false, and he is not a drug dealer.

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“In this case this is a significant drug dealer and we’re gonna go after the drug dealer and see that he’s punished,” said former Genesee County Prosecutor Art Busch.

And punish they did, Thompson was sentenced to 40-60 years. He’s eligible for parole on April 29, 2038.

"Forty years is a very harsh sentence. In today's world, if you are convicted of second-degree murder, you're not likely to get 40 years," said Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton.

Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley is Thompson’s nephew. "It was a non-violent crime, and you possess no threat to the general public, we ought to have an idea about what mercy, what justice looks like. And I think on the call, that they said if that same crime was committed today, it would be equivalent to a four-year sentence," Neeley said.

Neeley spoke at Thompson’s parole hearing where there is an opportunity for his case to be sent to Governor Whitmer for clemency. No one was allowed to record the hearing on Nov. 17, but Neeley, along with Thompson’s daughter, attorney, and other advocates across the country vouched for him.

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"I was happy to speak on behalf of myself, as a nephew, a beloved uncle, being able to describe the times as a young child playing with my cousins spending the night at his home. Flying kites," said Neeley.

Attorney General Dana Nessel’s letter to the board was also read. "I think he deserves to be out of prison. I think he deserves to be released. And I truly trust that Governor Whitmer will do the right thing when it comes to his case."

Another speaker was Gersten with the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit that helps those convicted of cannabis crimes. "It's particularly egregious because Michael is in the State of Michigan, a state that's fully legalized cannabis for adult use."

Neeley said it was awesome to hear so many people speak on his uncle's behalf. "The kind hearts throughout our nation and our state. Hearing from the attorney general through a written statement, it shows second chances do exist."

The board asked Thompson in detail about his past drug crimes. He admitted he’d been a drug dealer and had been trying to support his family.

Since his conviction, Thompson has been a model prisoner, only having one infraction in his 24 years.

"Second chances does exist, I believe in second chances, but not as much as first chances. But in this case, I think it was well warranted for them to speak up and speak about this particular issue, and also the lack of mercy, and also the lack of real dispensing of justice," Neeley said.

Thompson said if he is granted time served, he wants to spend time with his family.

For his final statement he thanked his supporters. His daughter said, ‘I love you’. Thompson said, ‘I love you, too’.

The parole board will vote to make a recommendation. If it moves on to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s desk, she will have the ability to grant him time served. If not, he would still have to serve another 15 years.

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