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Ala. Woman Out After Life Sentence

May 1, 2002

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ A woman who became a poster child for critics of mandatory sentencing was granted freedom Wednesday after once being sentenced to life without parole for a first-time drug offense.

Theresa Wilson cried and was allowed to hug her husband and two children after a judge reduced her sentence to time served.

``You’ve gotten a second chance. Don’t blow it,″ Circuit Judge Tommy Nail told Wilson.

Now 34, Wilson was sentenced in 1998 to spend the rest of her life in prison because of a law that branded her a ``drug baron″ when she sold a morphine mixture for $150. The 1986 law mandated the sentence because the mixture weighed more than 56 grams.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals last year ruled 3-2 that the life sentence for a first drug offense was cruel and unusual punishment, sending the case to Nail for a new sentence.

Wilson will be on probation for three years. She remained in custody after the sentencing, awaiting paperwork for her release, but was expected to be freed later Wednesday.

``May God have mercy on me,″ she told the judge.

She has said she is not the same woman who was arrested in 1996 for selling the drug to an undercover police officer.

``The Theresa in 1996 was a drug addict who didn’t care,″ Wilson told The Birmingham News in an interview last month. ``My mother had passed away and when she left, a part of me died.″

She had been damaged long before. Her father was an alcoholic and she was abused as a child, she said. She dropped out of school after the eighth grade.

``If it would get you high, make you numb and forget about your surroundings, I did it,″ she said.

She was convicted in March 1998 and given the life sentence by now-retired Circuit Judge J. Richmond Pearson.

``Judge Pearson only did what he had to do. He sat up there with tears in his eyes,″ she said. ``I was never angry. Just disappointed in the justice system.″

She went to state prison in May 1998, working in its clothing factory and obtaining her GED. Reunited with her family, her husband and children visited every two weeks.

Wilson said she plans to work as a church secretary and eventually wants to become a drug recovery counselor.

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