From Steve Bannon to Lil’ Wayne, President Trump pardoned or commuted sentences of 143 people in his final hours in office.
The list includes a North Texas man who had a local pastor, fellow prisoners and a woman who was previously pardoned by President Trump step in to plea for his case.
That woman now hopes North Texas welcomes him back with open arms.
With a stamp and signature of approval by President Trump, James Brian Cruz walked out of the federal prison in Seagoville a free man.
Cruz has been granted clemency and was released from federal prison after serving roughly half of a 40-year sentence for a drug crime.
Alice Johnson helped secure his release.
“It is an act of grace and mercy and recognizing that someone deserves a second chance and I can’t think of anyone more deserving than James Brian Cruz,” she said. “He had already demonstrated he was that person deserving of redemption. He turned his life around. He poses zero safety risks to the community.”
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She’s been there too. She served 22 years in prison on drug and money laundering charges before being pardoned by Trump in 2018.
Since her release, Johnson and her group 'Taking Action for Good' has fought for other prisoners.
“As soon as I read about this case, Maria, it grabbed me,” she said. “One thing about James that I loved is he took full responsibility for his actions.”
Johnson said she used her platform to ensure the Trump Administration considered the case of the young man, left fatherless and whose brother was killed in a car crash when he was about 15-years-old.
“Other relatives take him in, and they were doing things that they should not have been doing and that is in the drug business,” she said. “He really didn’t have any parental guidance and he got caught up in that. And at a very young age he goes to prison and is sentenced to 40 years. It's a tragedy.”
The White House stated:
President Trump commuted the remaining sentence of James Brian Cruz. Mr. Cruz’s many supporters include Alice Johnson, Dr. Robert Jeffress, Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, Kelly Shackelford of the First Liberty Institute, several former inmates who Mr. Cruz mentored or ministered, Mr. Cruz’s work supervisor, and several business owners and managers. Mr. Cruz, who has served approximately half of a 40-year sentence for a drug crime, has truly reformed and has worked to better his life and the lives of other inmates while in prison. Several former inmates credit Mr. Cruz, whom they met while incarcerated, as someone who helped changed their life, as “a great source of comfort” for many, and one who helps others without looking for anything in return. Mr. Cruz’s work supervisor describes him as a dependable and hard-working employee, who has “gained the respect of many staff workers and inmates alike” and who helps arguing inmates “make peace.” Mr. Cruz writes that he recognizes the effect drugs have on people, families, and the community, and desires a second chance to “live life as one who upholds the law, and lives to help others.”
To those who say Cruz does not deserve clemency and should remain in prison until 2034, Johnson says this, “I’m not saying that James should not have paid for his crimes. However, the time was too much,” she said. “And don’t judge him by the mistakes of his past but judge him by what he did to correct those mistakes.”
Johnson’s fight for criminal justice reform continues.
Asked what her lasting thoughts on President Trump will be she said, “He is someone who’s given me an opportunity to fulfill a promise that I made to the men and women who I left behind that I would never stop fighting for them."
She feels hopeful the Biden – Harris Administration will continue the work.
“I’m asking him to continue it,” she said.
Cruz's attorneys, Cory Liu and Johnny Sutton, released the following statement from their client:
"I want to thank President Trump for commuting my sentence and setting me free. I am so happy to be given a second chance. It is impossible to express the gratitude I feel towards my family and friends who never gave up on me and fought for my freedom. I will be forever grateful to Ms. Alice Johnson and her team for believing in me and advocating at the highest levels for my release. Not many men get second chances in life, and I plan to make every day God gives me on this earth count like it was my last."
Liu and Sutton, of the Ashcroft Law Firm, also released a statement saying they were honored to help Cruz receive a second chance at life.
"He served 21 years of a 40-year sentence imposed after he committed a drug offense when he was just a teenager. During his time in prison, he became a devout Christian, led Bible studies and was involved in prison ministry, mentored other inmates, and truly earned this opportunity to restart his life. We wish him the very best and are privileged to have played a role in his release," the firm said.
Cruz will be on supervised release for five years and will have to pay a $25,000 fine.