Texas woman back in prison less than a year after Obama commuted sentence

A woman convicted of dealing crack cocaine walked away from a life sentence last July. On Thursday, she was back in court


By Julieta Chiquillo
The Dallas Morning News

HOUSTON, Texas — A 49-year-old Texas woman convicted of dealing crack cocaine walked away from a life sentence last July after then-President Barack Obama granted her clemency. 

On Thursday, Carol Denise Richardson of Texas City was back in court, where a judge ordered her to return to federal prison for 14 months. She cried throughout the hearing, her attorney told the Houston Chronicle.

Carol Denise Richardson. (Photo/Texas Federal Court)
Carol Denise Richardson. (Photo/Texas Federal Court)

Prosecutors said Richardson repeatedly violated the conditions of her supervised release.

"This defendant was literally given a second chance to become a productive member of society and has wasted it," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ted Imperato said in a news release. "She has clearly shown a willful disregard for the law and must face the consequences for her crimes and actions."

Richardson was convicted in 2006 of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine, plus two counts of possession.  Prosecutors said Richardson and her husband, Eskico Garner, plotted six transactions involving about 200 grams of crack cocaine. A confidential informant working with the Drug Enforcement Administration testified about buying the substance from Richardson, Garner and three others.

U.S. attorneys sought a tough sentence for Richardson because of her criminal record: She had two previous felony convictions in Galveston County for possession of a controlled substance and delivery of cocaine, records show.

Four years after her trial, Congress passed a law that reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses at the federal level. People convicted of dealing crack cocaine used to receive significantly longer sentences than those who sold powder cocaine — by a ratio of 100 to 1.

From a federal prison in Florida, Richardson beseeched a court to soften her punishment. She claimed in a 2012 legal filing that her co-defendants who were considered the leaders of the drug scheme received less time than she did. She said she was a drug addict with bipolar disorder and pointed to her participation in rehabilitative programs and educational courses offered by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

In another document — a letter penned in neat cursive to a federal judge — Richardson again asked for a reprieve.

"My family had a petition signed by over 80 people in my small community that knew me before I started destroying my life by using drugs," she wrote. "I am not a bad person when I am not using drugs or alcohol. The petition was placed in my file."

Richardson also wrote several letters to a nonprofit called CAN-DO, standing for Clemency for All Nonviolent Drug Offenders. The group took up her cause and placed her in its top-25 list of women seeking clemency.

"I was a drug user and do not consider myself a drug dealer because I never profited from the sell of drugs," Richardson wrote to CAN-DO. "On March 28, 2005 I admitted myself into rehab and was getting help when I was indicted."

In March 2016, Obama commuted the sentences of 61 federal inmates serving time for nonviolent drug offenses. Richardson was one of them.

The mother of four and grandmother of two left prison a few months later. Her attorney, Mark Anthony Diaz, told the Chronicle that she relied on her family to stay clean at first. But she fell back into her old life and lost touch with her loved ones.

Prosecutors said Richardson violated her supervised release, set for a term of 10 years, when she was arrested in April on a theft charge near Houston. She pleaded guilty, according to court records.

She also failed to report the arrest to her probation officer or the fact that she had been fired from her job. She didn't tell authorities about a change in residence.

Amy Povah, the founder of CAN-DO, told The Washington Post that Richardson's case was "extremely rare." She said she was aware of one other person who had returned to prison after being granted clemency by Obama — a San Antonio man accused of fleeing police after a drug deal.

The nonprofit blamed Richardson's recidivism on drug addiction that has gone untreated. It said Richardson was ineligible to participate in a 500-hour residential drug program in prison because she was a "lifer."

"The system has failed Carol, yet again," CAN-DO said in a statement posted on its website. "It will be easy for some to point a finger at Carol and justify their support of harsh mandatory sentences as a necessity to keep people locked up, when we feel Carol's current situation is proof that we desperately need to overhaul our current drug policy that treats addiction as a criminal issue, rather than a medical issue."

Judge Keith P. Ellison said he'd make rehab part of Richardson's release plan, the Chronicle reported.

When she's released, Richardson will be placed on supervised release for five years.

©2017 The Dallas Morning News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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