Post Date: September 7, 2013
Stephanie was sentenced to life without parole when she was only 26 years old for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base. At sentencing, Stephanie’s judge said that her role had “basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder. So certainly, in my judgment, it doesn’t warrant a life sentence.” President Obama granted Stephanie a commutation on December 19, 2013, and she was released on April 17, 2014. Stephanie shared her story at a briefing in Washington, D.C. Watch the event here.
Without President Obama’s act of mercy, taxpayers would have spent nearly $1.4 million to incarcerate Stephanie George for being “a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder” in a drug conspiracy. Despite her judge’s objection, Stephanie received a mandatory life without parole sentence for her role in the conspiracy – the longest sentence of any of her codefendants.
Stephanie’s parents divorced when she was young, and Stephanie move between them until returning to her mother in Pensacola, Florida to start middle school. After graduating from high school, she moved out on her own and worked as a sales clerk, receptionist, housekeeper, nursing home assistant and beautician. Though Stephanie worked hard, her salary alone could not support her three young children.
Stephanie dated several men who were involved in selling drugs. At times, they would help Stephanie support her family. In exchange, she occasionally delivered and sold drugs and took messages for them. On October 26, 1993, police arrested Stephanie after she was found sitting on the front porch of a house next to a bag that contained cocaine residue. She confessed she had crack in her possession and surrendered it to the officers. She received probation. On November 10, several weeks after her arrest, police sent a confidential informant (CI) to make a controlled drug buy from Stephanie. On November 15, the CI purchased two crack rocks for $120. On December 8, the CI bought $40 worth of crack from Stephanie and several codefendants. After this final controlled buy, officers searched Stephanie’s residence and found four pieces of crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia. Stephanie was fined and sentenced to nine months in jail with work release.
Nearly three years later on August 16, 1996, police raided Stephanie’s residence after a CI reported that he had seen crack in the house. Officers found 500 grams of powder cocaine and $13,710 in an attic safe belonging to Stephanie’s former boyfriend, Michael. In the master bedroom, police found utensils that tested positive for drug residue. Michael had the key to the safe, along with $797 in cash in his pants pocket. He confessed to police that the money, the cocaine and the paraphernalia belonged to him and that the $797 was from 500 grams of crack he had already sold.
Later, Michael would testify that he paid Stephanie to let him reside and store crack at her house. At the time of her arrest, Stephanie had no cash, no bank account and owned no other property besides her car, valued at $2,500. She depended on food stamps and welfare to provide for her children.
Stephanie went to trial. She was held accountable for 500 grams of powder cocaine found in the attic safe as well as 500 grams of crack that Michael said he sold. Several of Stephanie’s codefendants who dealt drugs with Michael testified against her. Because of their uncorroborated testimony, Stephanie was held accountable for an additional 290 grams of crack, for a total of 1,290 grams (about 2.84 pounds). Stephanie received a sentence enhancement for obstruction of justice because she testified that she had no knowledge of and did not participate in Michael’s drug activity. Because of her 1993 drug offenses, Stephanie was categorized as a career criminal, an enhancement which mandates a life sentence. Despite his objections, Judge Roger Vinson was forced to sentence 26-year-old Stephanie to life in prison without parole. He said:
There’s no question that Ms. George deserved to be punished. The only question is whether it should be a mandatory life sentence … I wish I had another alternative.” He told Stephanie, “Even though you have been involved in drugs and drug dealing for a number of years … your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder. So certainly, in my judgment, it doesn’t warrant a life sentence.
Stephanie received the longest sentence of any of her five codefendants. Over 15 years ago, the young mother of three was led out of the courtroom quietly crying. Her children have grown up without her and her older relatives have aged and passed away. While in prison, Stephanie has actively participated in vocational and educational training and working hard at her prison job. She has completed drug treatment and is sober.
On December 19, 2013, President Obama took the extraordinary measure of granting Stephanie a sentence commutation. She was released from prison on April 17, 2014 after serving 17 years behind bars. Take a look at these heartwarming photos from her release.
The Facts: Stephanie George
Original sentence: Life*
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base
Priors: Possession of cocaine with intent to distribute; resisting arrest without violence; principle to sale of cocaine; three counts sale and delivery of cocaine and possession of cocaine (1993)
Year sentenced: 1997
Age at sentencing: 26
Original projected release date: None*
*On December 19, 2013, President Obama granted Stephanie a commutation (reduction of sentence). She was released from prison on April 17, 2014.