FAIRFIELD (CBS SF) — A Fairfield man convicted of stealing materials for making methamphetamine from his Vacaville employer over 16 years ago was one of 214 inmates granted a commuted sentence by President Barack Obama Wednesday.
“All of the individuals receiving commutation today, incarcerated under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws, embody the President’s belief that ‘America is a nation of second chances,’” White House Counsel Neil Eggelston wrote in a statement.READ MORE: Gas Pump Sticker Shock: Bay Area Approaching Nation Leading $4 A Gallon
The 214 commutations granted Wednesday, including for 67 inmates serving life sentences, were the most by a president in a single day in over 100 years and bring the total number of commuted sentences Obama has granted to 562, more than the previous nine presidents combined, White House officials said.
Almost all the commutations Obama has granted have been for inmates serving lengthy prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses.
Among the offenders granted a reduced sentence Wednesday was Thomas Raymond Ross, a former hazardous materials technician for antihistamine manufacturer Alza Corporation in Vacaville.
Ross’s employer grew suspicious of him in 1998, when the company discovered a drum of waste pseudoephedrine had been stolen. Alza hired a private investigator who posed as an employee and eventually learned Ross had sold six barrels of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in methamphetamine, to meth manufacturers for $5,000-$7,000 per barrel.
He had sold the barrels to Derrick Williams, a former Alza employee and meth addict, who eventually pleaded guilty and testified against Ross. According to Drug Enforcement Administration officials, one barrel of pseudoephedrine could be used to make 25 to 30 pounds of meth.
Ross stood trial on charges of conspiring to manufacture methamphetamine, conspiring to distribute pseudoephedrine, and distributing pseudoephedrine, and was eventually convicted by a jury. He argued unsuccessfully on appeal that he had deficient representation because his lawyer, Malik Ali Muhammad, had been disbarred before his trial and didn’t show up for his sentencing hearing.
He was sentenced to 20 years in prison on April 11, 2001.
Since then, Ross has lived in the Taft Federal Correctional Institution in Kern County. He has continued to argue for a commuted or vacated sentence.
His family submitted 10 letters asking for his release in 2011, including letters of support from his mother, his wife, two of his five children and his mother-in-law. His youngest child was 11 in 2011 when they submitted the letters and his oldest already had a son of his own.
Ross is a graduate of Woodside High School in San Mateo County and a U.S. Army veteran, according to his family. While they acknowledged his crime, the family argued that he had served enough time and that his continued absence was placing an undue hardship on his family, both economically and emotionally.READ MORE: VIDEO: Asian Man Attacked In Oakland, Tries to Fight Back In Attempted Robbery
“We need our son Thomas Raymond around,” his mother, Betty Ross, wrote in a letter to Judge William Shubb. “We only have one life and would like to live it with our son and his family. Thomas really is a great person that helped us and the community in many different ways. He is truly missed by everyone.”
His young son also wrote to the judge, “I really want my dad home. He hasn’t been home with me ever. He’s been in jail my whole life and my little sister’s. I don’t know how to do anything such as fish, camp. He’s never been to my school, football games, basketball games. I just really wish you will let my dad home.”
After losing his job at Alza, Ross started a painting business before he was incarcerated, his wife, Angela Ross, wrote in her own letter.
She moved her family to Lompoc in 2003 to be closer to the prison but still drives over two hours each way to visit him three times a month. She said she regularly sends him report cards, school work and photos of the children.
“I’m sure you know how terrible the economy is, I need him home to work so he can help support our family. Though I do work 40 hours a week it is not enough,” she wrote.
The family also submitted his own certificates from coursework he’d completed in prison, such as substance abuse training, a parenting class and two college courses in psychology.
He got an A on a paper written for a New Testament survey class in 2011 that was included in the materials arguing for his release. In it, Ross argued that sin had progressed in our society ever since the days of Adam and Eve, snowballing until society reached a point that sin was glorified in media.
“What must we do as a society to change our ungodly ways and spread godly living and stop the worldly snowballing effect?” Ross wrote. “How can we make an effort to give up sin? First, we must learn who God is and get an understanding how much he loves us. We must understand the purpose of God sending his only begotten son to Earth to die for our sins and why Jesus’s death on a cross is so important for our salvation.”
Ross will be released in September, about five years before the end of his sentence.
With about five months still remaining in his presidency, Obama is expected to continue commuting prisoners’ sentences, though White House officials have stressed that individual grants of clemency will never be sufficient to correct decades of harsh sentencing for non-violent drug offenders.
“That is why action from Congress is so important,” Eggelston wrote. “While we continue to work to act on as many clemency applications as possible, only legislation can bring about lasting change to the federal system. It is critical that both the House and the Senate continue to work on a bipartisan basis to get a criminal justice reform bill to the President’s desk.”MORE NEWS: Video: Violent Carjacking From Richmond Auto Dealership; Worker Hurled From Hood Attempting To Stop Thief
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