Jerry Davich: In prison for 37 years, ‘punishment has exceeded my crime’
Jerry Davich firstname.lastname@example.org September 29, 2012 8:58PM
Clifton Boone Jr. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media ptmet
Updated: November 1, 2012 6:36AM
Clifton Boone Jr. is more than ready to be released from incarceration after 37 years, but a legal loophole threatens to keep him behind bars for the rest of his life.
Boone was put into Indiana State Prison in 1976, at age 19, long before cell phones, the Internet and other high-tech conveniences we take now for granted.
But, unfortunately for him, it was also just before the state’s criminal laws were overhauled in 1977 and addressed his type of crime — kidnapping — among others. Long statute short, kidnapping no longer carries a life sentence, let alone three life terms and no possibility of parole, as Boone was sentenced.
Boone was accused of kidnapping three teenage girls at gunpoint and raping one of them. Police arrested Boone in connection with the crime although he denied committing it. He also refused to testify against the other two men involved and it proved to be a possibly fatal mistake.
The Gary man was sentenced to 20 years in prison for rape, with a projected release date of 1986. He has obviously served his time for that part of the crime.
But he also was sentenced to three life terms for kidnapping, and this is the since-revised sentence that puts him inside a prison cell with freedom beyond his reach. Because he committed the crime before the laws were changed, he (and roughly a dozen other inmates) are stuck in no-man’s land.
In Boone’s case, no-man’s land is Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, where he literally grew up, and where I visited him last week.
Boone, who turns 57 next month, has been a model prisoner through the decades, and he has taken advantage of every rehabilitative program offered. He’s also earned several college degrees and various certificates, as well as having served as a mentor to newcomers in the prison.
“I’m more than ready to be released,” said Boone, a soft-spoken man who sported a light brown prison outfit, black eyeglasses, and a sense of utter frustration. “Since coming here, I’ve accepted responsibility for my actions, accountability for my sentence, and God knows I’m so sorry for my mistakes. I’ve said that a million times to myself since being here.”
“But my punishment has exceeded my crime,” he explained. “I am not the same 19-year-old kid who came here in 1976.”
I’ve heard similar refrains from other inmates during prison interviews, but there’s something very different about Boone’s case. Simply put, he’s right. And he should be released.
“He will die in prison unless Gov. Mitch Daniels grants him clemency or Lake County Prosecutor Bernie Carter allows a resentencing hearing,” said Robert Buggs, a friend of Boone’s family who has been working tirelessly for his release.
He even ran a classified ad in the Post-Tribune, seeking input from the three women who were victimized in 1975. “If you object or agree with his release, please contact (me),” he wrote. He never heard from the women.
Buggs, however, summed up perfectly Boone’s situation. Unless Daniels (or his successor) grants him clemency, or Carter grants a resentencing hearing, Boone will remain in prison, and will likely die there.
‘I will take care
Boone has appeared before the Indiana Parole Board many times. They know him well and, after repeatedly recommending against his clemency, they issued their formal recommendation for clemency to Daniels in 2006.
“There is no doubt about the lack of equal treatment for offenders who essentially committed the same crime except for the date of the offense,” Indiana Parole Board Chairman George Kemp wrote to Boone on Sept. 18, 2003.
Even the man who initially sentenced Boone has since tried to change Boone’s fate by working behind the scenes to craft legislation that would possibly release him.
But that man, long-time Lake Superior Court Judge James Clement, who kept in contact with Boone in prison, died before getting his case reviewed for possible release. That legislation, Senate Bill 126, also died before becoming law.
“I know Judge Clement has told me that you have been a very patient individual that has rehabilitated himself and has nothing but kind words for you,” wrote attorney Alexander Woloshansky, who served as a public defender in Clement’s courtroom, in a letter to Boone dated Jan. 30, 2001. “I must simply ask you to be patient and eventually I will take care of this.”
Here we are more than a decade later and it was obviously not taken care of.
Two years ago, the Gary NAACP also looked into Boone’s compelling case, but nothing ever came from it.
“We’re just trying to find out where people are at this point,” said director, Karen Pulliam, in a Post-Tribune story.
That is sort of what I’m doing in this column, but I don’t plan on forgetting about this case.
Boone, an accomplished musician and photographer, plans to return to his Gary home and live with his elderly mother. He also plans to resurrect his family’s landscaping business.
“I need my son back home to take care of me,” Myrtis Boone told me during a visit to her home, the same home where Boone grew up.
Her husband, Clifton Boone Sr., died a couple years back, and her other son died a few years ago.
Myrtis, a wonderful God-loving woman with serious health issues, is leery of getting her hopes too high again about her son’s release. But hope, and faith, are all she has left.
“He’s been locked up too long,” she said with a sigh.
How about it,
I contacted Daniels’ office about the possibility of clemency for Boone. His office’s spokeswoman told me this:
“Mr. Boone’s petition for clemency was denied because of the nature and circumstances of the offense,” Jane Jankowski wrote to me. “Various staff members in our office are very familiar with Mr. Boone and had conversations over the course of one to two years with individuals who contacted us on his behalf.
“Clemency and pardons are one of the governor’s most powerful tools. The governor does not take this assignment lightly. At this point in Gov. Daniels’ term it is unlikely that he would be in a position to reconsider the request.”
I then contacted Lake County Prosecutor Bernie Carter, who is Boone’s last hope.
“Everything hinges on Bernie Carter,” Buggs told me flatly. “He has the power to make Mr. Boone a free man.”
Carter, who’s very familiar with Boone’s case, told me he has no intentions of allowing a resentencing hearing, for various reasons. All legitimate, but none convincing.
“We are not in a position to do this,” he told me, referring the case instead to the governor’s office. “This is something that county prosecutors simply do not do.”
At Boone’s childhood home, I met with his mother, as well as Buggs, his friend Josetta Shropshire, and his fiancee Sarah Flemming (yes, his fiancee).
“Clifton has been wronged, and those officials just want him to go away,” Flemming said.
“But he has a plan of action once he gets out,” Shropshire said.
Boone, who also wants to mentor Gary youth, told me, “I want to be part of the solution, to make a difference in my hometown.”
“All I’m asking for is an opportunity, a chance, and Mr. Carter can make that happen right now,” he added. “Let me prove myself.”
How about it, Mr. Carter? Will you review Boone’s case? Or meet with him?
Boone has paid his debt to society, with interest. Justice has been served. Let him begin serving his city, his community and, most importantly, his mother.