Sheron’s Story: One Crime, Two Sentences – FAMM

Sheron’s Story: One Crime, Two Sentences

Imagine serving 20 years in federal prison, only to be released straight into 20 more in state prison. That’s Sheron Edwards’ story. During one bad night in 1999, he made a series of terrible decisions. The crimes he committed deserved punishment, yes, but in his case, Sheron was sentenced twice for the same single sequence of criminal acts. 

 

Sheron’s mother did her best to raise Sheron and his three siblings in a tough neighborhood in Starkville, Mississippi. “My mother emphasized education, religion and manners,” Sheron remembers. “Church every Sunday, and if we didn’t get good grades we would be punished.”

All his mother’s efforts could not protect him from the reality and challenges of growing up poor and Black in a city in Mississippi. Kids in the neighborhood targeted him for bullying because his good manners and strict upbringing set him apart. The crack epidemic hit Starkville hard. “Crack brought violence, prostitution, child abandonment and all those ugly variables,” says Sheron.

Sheron suffered terrible trauma during these years, including discovering his sister unconscious and half-naked in the street following a violent sexual assault. “The amount of violence we saw during those years was unbelievable,” he says. Not surprisingly, Sheron was pulled into the negativity. “I began to hang with older guys in the neighborhood, smoke weed, drink, and sell drugs.”

But Sheron’s mother never gave up. She worked hard and moved the family to a better side of town. Sheron did much better in school, played football, and was involved in a junior fraternity — Sigma Beta. His mother’s efforts were paying off, and he was turning his life around.

Sheron graduated high school and started working. After a couple of years, he met a young woman who saw something special in him. At her encouragement he went to Atlanta to pursue a career in entertainment. After a year he returned homesick — he missed her so much. She encouraged Sheron to embrace a sober life, and he did. They were engaged to be married. It looked like Sheron was headed in the right direction, against all the odds.

On March 13, 1999, in the midst of an argument with his fiancée, he drank liquor and lost his sobriety. His fiancée fled the scene. To pursue her, Sheron robbed a man at gunpoint, stealing his car and injuring him in the process. Sheron crashed the car in an accident a few miles away.

These are serious offenses. Innocent people were terrified and victimized. Sheron certainly deserved commensurate punishment. However, he committed one set of crimes. But, at age 23, he was tried and convicted twice, in both federal and state courts.

Most importantly, he was sentenced twice, with two sentences to run consecutively. Federal law deemed Sheron’s crimes worthy of a stiff 20-year prison sentence. Mississippi law also demanded 20 years behind bars. Neither government believed his crimes warranted 40 years, yet that is what he got.

For Sheron, and so many others serving extreme sentences that defy common sense and human decency, a second chance – in the form of compassionate release, clemency, or second look laws – is the answer.

Sheron was prosecuted under the concept of “dual sovereignty,” which holds that more than one sovereign entity, such as a state government and federal government, may prosecute an individual without violating the prohibition against double jeopardy if the individual’s acts breaks the laws of each sovereign.

Many American jurists question the constitutionality of dual sovereignty. In sharply divided decisions, some Supreme Court justices reject the doctrine outright, as a violation of double jeopardy. Justice Gorsuch in a dissenting opinion in Gamble v. United States asks the simple question “if double jeopardy prevents one government from prosecuting a defendant multiple times for the same offense…on what account can it make a difference when many governments collectively seek to do the same.”

A young, troubled man, beset by substance abuse and domestic issues, committed a violent crime. Unfortunately, this is a set of facts that is all too familiar. Yet the Mississippi judicial system chose to punish Sheron in a most excessive, inhumane way.

When attempting to understand the prosecutorial decisions that led to Sheron being double sentenced, it is impossible to ignore the climate and history of racial relations in Mississippi. While public white supremacist organizations in the state have been disbanded, stark problems remain.

In June 2020, the United States Commission on Human Rights issued a report entitled “Prosecutorial Discretion and Civil Rights in Mississippi.” Among a wide range of conclusions and recommendations, the Commission specifically finds that there “is little accountability or review of prosecutor’s discretionary decisions.” The Commission recommends “a working group to review the prosecutors’ discretion on racial disparities in conviction and incarceration rates” and to require all prosecutors to “attend annual anti-bias training.”

Exacerbating Sheron’s problems as he confronted Mississippi’s dark legacy of past prejudice. as well as its current systemic issues, was the fact that his victim is the son of a state court judge. Also, people involved in Sheron’s journey through the criminal justice system left no doubt where they stood. Starkville police detective David Lindley, who played a leading role in driving the case against Sheron, was suspended for six months for wearing his Klu Klux Klan uniform at work a year before he investigated Sheron, historian Michael Newton reports in his book The Klu Klux Klan: A History. Sheron was prosecuted by Forest Allgood, described by the Washington Post as “one of America’s worst prosecutors” for his various aggressive misconducts in winning convictions.

In his 20 hard years in federal prison, Sheron has transformed himself. In addition to expressing deep remorse for his crimes, he’s achieved numerous vocational certifications. He worked as a barber and as a suicide companion — one who observes and supports inmates on suicide watch. He published an autobiography, Life’s Lenses, which is available on Amazon. He is ready for life beyond bars. Our society would be better with him in it.

For Sheron, and so many others serving extreme sentences that defy common sense and human decency, a second chance – in the form of compassionate release, clemency, or second look laws – is the answer.

Meanwhile, Sheron, now 47, sits in a cell. His family faces another 20 years of waiting for him to come home. It’s hard to imagine the agony they must be experiencing. Sheron and his family – and so many families like them – deserve a second chance.

Help FAMM fight for second chances for Sheron and so many others.

Sheron’s yearbook photo

State: Mississippi
Issue: Sentencing