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Okla. Governor Rejects Inmate's Commutation (Oct 25, 2011)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Gov. Mary Fallin announced Tuesday she denied a request to commute the life-without-parole prison sentence of a 61-year-old convicted drug trafficker whose sentence has become a rallying cry for proponents of reducing Oklahoma's high incarceration rate.

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-2 in August in favor of commuting Larry Yarbrough's sentence, which would have made him eligible for parole within a year.

"The Pardon and Parole Board has a difficult job and I appreciate the commitment and hard work of its members," Fallin said in a statement. "Sometimes we are going to disagree, and this is one of those times.

"I continue to value their input and appreciate their passion for pursuing justice."

Yarbrough has served 17 years in prison for a conviction in Kingfisher County of trafficking in illegal drugs after former felony convictions. Kingfisher County District Attorney Michael Fields, who objected to the board's recommendation, said Yarbrough had five prior felony convictions, including distribution of LSD and marijuana, and served two years in prison during the early 1980s.

Yarbrough's attorney, Debra Hampton, said she was "extremely disappointed" to learn of Fallin's decision.

Several Yarbrough supporters have said his sentence is excessive and call him a poster child for reducing prison sentences for nonviolent offenders to save tax dollars and reduce incarceration rates.

Oklahoma leads the nation in its incarceration rate of women and ranks third overall in incarceration rates, due in large part to harsh sentences for drug crimes.

State Sen. Constance Johnson, who attended Yarbrough's hearing, said she plans again to file legislation to limit lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, although similar bills were not granted a hearing during the last legislative session.

According to the Department of Corrections, there are currently 48 individuals in the state corrections system serving life without parole sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.

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