By Cora Currier
ProPublica, March 8, 2013
March 9, 2013: This post has been corrected.
Last week, President Obama pardoned 17 people – another batch of pardons from a president who has granted clemency at a lower rate than any of his recent predecessors.
Among the thousands still waiting for a pardon or commutation from Obama is Clarence Aaron. His application for early release is pending despite media attention and a finding by the Justice Department’s inspector general that his case was mishandled.
Nearly three months after the inspector general’s report, the Justice Department won’t say if any action has been taken in response.
Aaron seemed like a model candidate for commutation. As we detailed in a story co-published with the Washington Post, Aaron was sentenced to three life sentences at 24 for his role in a cocaine deal. It was his first criminal offense, and he was not the buyer, seller, nor supplier of the drugs.
Both the prosecutor’s office and sentencing judge involved in his case came to support a commutation – which would mean an immediate release. (A pardon is for those who have done their time and have been out of prison at least five years.) He has been in prison since 1993, and will die there if his sentence is not shortened.
But the pardon attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers, recommended to President Bush that Aaron’s request be denied. ProPublica found that Rodgers withheld critical information from the White House about Aaron’s application. The revelations prompted the inspector general to investigate, and this December he concluded that Rodgers had misrepresented the case.
The report said that Rodger’s advice to the President "was colored by his concern ... that the White House might grant Aaron clemency presently and his desire that this not happen."
The inspector general referred the case to Deputy Attorney General James Cole to determine “whether administrative action is appropriate.”
A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment on the status of Cole’s review.
Aaron reapplied for commutation in April, 2010. This July, the White House asked for a fresh review of his case.
After hearing from the Justice Department we reached out to Aaron’s attorney, but did not receive an immediate response.
Obama has granted clemency at a lower rate than any modern president, according to a ProPublica analysis of Justice Department statistics.
The president relies on recommendations from the pardon attorney to decide the fates of thousands of clemency applications. While the number of applicants has increased in recent years, Obama has been denying people faster than his predecessors.
Obama has pardoned 39 people, while denying 1,333. Last week he also denied 1,557 requests for commutation, for a total of 5,370.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece stated that the pardons announced last Friday were Obama's "second batch." In fact, he has issued the 39 pardons in four batches.
(ProPublica offers "Journalism in the Public Interest." This story also is available here.)