Former Gov. Milliken on board to help local family free Larry Drum

Second in series

Efforts to free former Lake Orion resident Larry K. Drum are picking up speed. Former Michigan governor, William Milliken has written a letter to current Governor Jennifer Granholm.
‘I felt his (Drum’s) was a worthy cause,? Milliken said in a telephone interview last Friday. ‘He’s served long enough and his family has suffered terribly. I am hopeful when she receives his request, she gives full consideration to commuting his sentence.?
Drum, 68, has been a ward of the Michigan Corrections Department for 14 ? years since convicted of having over 650 grams of cocaine. He was busted by the Narcotics Enforcement Team (NET) in a 1986 sting operation at his Birmingham apartment. In 1992, Drum was sentenced by Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Barry Howard.
Though court documents show the drugs were not technically Drum’s (but his friend’s a dealer/supplier named John Martin), Judge Howard threw the proverbial book at Drum, sentencing him to life in prison, plus two 10-20 year sentences all to be served consecutively — one after the other. Judge Howard followed state guidelines under the old ?650-lifer? law signed into effect by then Governor Milliken.
This past January, Martin (the man whose drugs were being sold in Drum’s apartment) was paroled, which didn’t sit well with Drum’s family. Over the years, they paid attorneys and jumped through hoops set up by the legal system, only to be denied his release. The family decided to go public.
‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease,? Larry’s baby sister Gayle Garcia said recently. ‘We’re not saying Larry is innocent. We’re saying he made a mistake and served his time. We want him to come home while our mom is still alive.?
Their mother, Ione Drum, 92, still lives in the home she and her late husband Lionel built on Markdale Street over 50 years ago. Lionel died in September of 2000 and since, Ione has suffered a series of ‘mini-strokes.? She’s frail, uses a walker and is living for the time her oldest son again walks through her front door.
‘I’d tell him, ‘Welcome home son. I love you,?? she said. ‘He’s been gone so long.?
In early October, Ione Drum wrote a letter to Governor Granholm stating, in short, ‘Please let my son come home.? Just last week Drum’s attorney, Fred Miller of Oxford, sent in an application for commutation to the governor.
There are four ways to get out of Michigan prisons ahead of schedule. To get out early you can die, be paroled or receive clemency from the governor’s office in one of two ways, a commutation or pardon.
A pardon cleans a person’s record — in essence making them not guilty again. A commutation doesn’t change guilt, it redresses an individual’s specific situation.
‘The governor holds extraordinary powers and can commute sentences,? Milliken said. ‘I commuted 94 and one of my regrets is that I didn’t do more.?

Dealing with ‘extraordinary powers?
Commutations and pardons are something the Granholm administration grants only sparingly. According to Heidi Henderson of the governor’s communications division, ‘All requests (the governor gets) go before the parole board. They then make a recommendation back to the governor’s office.?
The state’s parole board is appointed by the head of the Michigan Department of Corrections. The 10-person board reviews all parole applications that arise plus the extra applications from the governor’s office.
The governor and her legal council then review recommendations before she makes her final decision. Since 2003, only a handful of folks have been released early by Granholm.
According to the governor’s office, in 2003 there were 241 requests for commutations and 43 requests for pardons. Two commutations were granted because the prisoners were terminally ill, Henderson said, adding 42 of the 43 pardons were denied.
In 2004, the governor denied 313 commutation requests out of 318; two were granted for medical reasons and three are pending. All 59 requests for pardons that year were denied.
So far in 2005, one commutation was granted (for medical reasons), 104 were denied and 127 (not including Drum’s) are under review. There have been 59 pardon requests — 35 were denied, the rest are still under review.
Granholm’s predecessor, John Engler commuted only 19 sentences.
‘It won’t be easy,? admitted Miller, Drum’s attorney, when asked about the odds of his client’s release. ?(But) we got the application into her office midway through last week.?

Most draconian laws in the USA
The old drug ?650-lifer law,? which both Drum and codefendant Martin were sentenced under, was signed into effect in 1978.
From 1978 until 1998 the 650-lifer law, in effect, tied judges? hands. Guidelines dictated sentences, not the circumstance or the individual.
‘Since I signed it,? Milliken said, ‘I have regretted it. The intent of the legislation — the reason I signed on — was to catch the drug kingpins — those high level people who were making all the money. What happened is we mostly caught low level individuals, some, I am sure like Mr. Drum, were addicted themselves. As a result, some 250 people were sent to prison.?
Milliken works with the Michigan Project of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) to reform Michigan’s 650-lifer law and other harsh mandatory minimum drug laws. Their efforts paid off as the law was changed in 1998 and again in 2003.
‘Michigan had the most draconian laws in the country,? FAMM’s Laura Sager said, ‘And Michigan still has very stiff drug laws. You can still get life and consecutive sentences, but there is no more a 650-lifer law. The 2003 reforms updated standards to pertain to the big drug players. Judges now have the discretion to tailor sentences to the individual offender and the facts.
‘I am not a lawyer, but since Larry had no priors (brushes with the law) and since his was a nonviolent offense, I would be very surprised if he would receive the same sentences today that he received back then.
‘Many individuals like Larry, even after the reforms, are still serving disproportionately harsh sentences.?
By year’s end, Sager said, State Representative Bill McConico (D-Detroit) hopes to have a package before the Michigan legislature, which would ‘finish up reforms started in 2003.?

14 ? years down, how many to go?
The past reforms mean Drum is now eligible for parole in about three years — after serving 17 ? years of his life sentence. Unfortunately for Drum and those fighting on his behalf, his mother Ione, sister Gayle and lifelong family friend Susan Mascia, as the law stands, even if he is granted a parole on his life sentence, he still must serve out the two shorter sentences meaning he will be at least 78-years-old before he is freed — Ione, if she survives would be 102. Which is why the family is scrambling to find all the support they can as they ask Governor Granholm for clemency.
‘Since the first article ran (October 12, 2005) we have had a lot of support,? Garcia said, estimating about 90 letters were written on their behalf. Among those planning on contacting Granholm is former Michigan Representative and Michigan Senator Mat Dunaskiss. Dunaskiss (R-Lake Orion) served in the state legislature from 1980 to 2002.
‘Sometimes laws are passed that are extreme,? Dunaskiss said. ‘And sometimes you find out they’re mistakes. Larry needs to be released. We’re not blaming the judge or the system, but by gosh, sometimes things need to be reviewed.?
Current state representative Jim Marleau (R-Orion Township) said many people in Orion are concerned with this case. ‘I do believe people deserve a second chance in life. I also know it’s the Governor’s call and if she sees fit that time served is sufficient, so be it — that’s the system and I believe we have a great system in this country.?

Just another number
According to records from FAMM, of those convicted under the 650-lifer law, only 150 are still imprisoned. Of those, Drum is the eighth oldest, at 68-years-old. The oldest imprisoned for drug related charges is Ruben Fluke who is 75.
Since the law was first changed in 1998, 46 of the drug related lifers have been paroled — with the average years served being 14.45.
Want to help the Drum family, send a letter to the governor’s office:
Governor Jennifer M. Granholm
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909