Students Marc Spooner (right) and Derek Hansen present a case they are working on during a School of Law commutation clinic November 22, 2011 at the School of Law.

11 Federal Inmates Freed From Prison Thanks to St. Thomas Law Clinic, Alumni

When President Barack Obama granted clemency to 325 federal inmates in the month of August, University of St. Thomas School of Law professor Mark Osler and several of his former students finally saw the fruits of their labor—some more than five years in the making. On Obama’s list were the names of 11 men whose freedom they helped make possible.

Through their work as clinical student attorneys in the Federal Commutations Clinic at St. Thomas Law, alumni Marc Spooner ’12, Ashley Bennett ’13, Derek Hansen ’13, Allison Kadrmas ’14, Nicole Swisher ’14, Eric Hylok ’15, Brittany Sandager ’15, Jamie Waldon ’15 and Natasha VanLieshout ‘16 directly impacted the lives of six men who were freed. An additional five men were helped by Waldon through his work with the Clemency Resource Center at New York University, a pro bono law office co-founded by Osler, the Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law, where Waldon works alongside Hylok and four other fellows. A sixth client of Waldon was granted a sentence reduction in November from life to 175 months.

Among the names on the list is Charlie Lawuary. It’s his case that serves as proof to Waldon and Hylok of the impact law students can have on those in need of legal service. Lawuary was the client who came before all the others they’ve helped in their first year as working lawyers—he was their introduction to federal commutations.

An Illinois man who was given a life sentence for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in 1997, Lawuary needed help evaluating and preparing his petition for commutation when he came to the Federal Commutations Clinic for help in 2014. The first law school clinic in the nation to specialize in federal commutations, St. Thomas serves a real need among federal inmates in this area. Law students who work in the clinic—like Waldon and Hylok—meet with clients and prepare narratives that tell the petitioner’s story and makes the case for their early release.

The terms of Lawuary’s sentence were mandated by the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine in the federal sentencing guidelines—the same rule Osler played a role in striking down when he won Spears v. United States in the U.S. Supreme Court 12 years after Lawuary’s conviction. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act opened the door for the commutation of sentences like his, and Waldon and Hylok prepared his petition for clemency.

Lawuary will be released Aug. 3, 2018.

Following graduation from law school in May 2015, Waldon and Hylok went directly to work for the CRC, working exclusively on preparing petitions for federal clemency. This professional endeavor is an extension of the work they began as clinical attorneys under Osler’s direction. For more of their story, told in their own words, visit the St. Thomas Law website.

A complete list of all clemency grantees is available on the Office of the Pardon Attorney website.

This story was originally posted Aug. 8, 2016, and referenced six inmates helped by St. Thomas Law Professor Mark Osler and his former students. It was updated Sept. 1, 2016, to add three additional Federal Commutations Clinic clients and two additional clients of Jamie Waldon who were included in President Obama's second batch of clemency grants in the month of August. It was again updated Nov. 23, 2016, to note an additional client of Waldon who received a sentence reduction.