Curtis McDonald, sentenced in connection with Alice Marie Johnson in ’96, free after Trump grants clemency


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced he signed an executive grant of clemency to commute the sentence of a man in a Memphis prison facility.

Family members of Curtis McDonald say he was the alleged co-conspirator in the case of Alice Marie Johnson of Memphis.

McDonald was convicted in 1996 and sentenced to life in prison for drug trafficking and money laundering. He was the only one of the 16 suspects in the case still behind bars.

Wednesday, he walked out of the Memphis Federal Correctional Institution and into the arms of family.

“We’re just so thankful,” said his brother, Derrick McDonald. “When I saw him walk out that door, it let me know that God is real. He’s real, man. And we’re so thankful as a family. His siblings that he’s never saw before, little nieces and nephews, he’s never saw them before. They’ve been hearing us talk about Uncle Curtis, now they get a chance to meet him.”

McDonald is now 70 years old. His family maintains he had no prior criminal record when he was sentenced to life in prison.

Last June, his family took to the streets of downtown Memphis calling for his release after he was diagnosed with COVID-19.

According to a White House press release, McDonald “has an excellent record of good conduct.” 

Mr. McDonald has made productive use of his time in prison, maintaining employment with good job evaluations, and has completed numerous education courses.  Mr. McDonald has also served as a mentor in the Mentors for Life program.  He acknowledges that “the law is the law and I broke it” and attests that he is “not the same man I was walking through these doors” decades ago.  Mr. McDonald vows that despite his life sentence, he has been determined to “take advantage of every opportunity to help myself grow . . . so that I may be of use to those who want and need it.”

-White House press release

In 2018, Trump granted Johnson, a first-time nonviolent drug offender, a commutation, a week after Kim Kardashian West pleaded her case for Johnson’s release during an Oval Office meeting with Trump. She received a full pardon this August.

Related: Attorney General William Barr gives update on Operation Legend in Memphis; two protesters taken into custody

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