Man who served 23 years for stealing hedge clippers gets parole, Basile law student assisted

Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (KLFY) — Fair Wayne Bryant, 63, gained notoriety nationwide for serving a life sentence for stealing a pair of hedge clippers, but as of this morning, he’s finally a free man.

According to the LSU Parole & Reentry Clinic, the Committee on Parole voted 3-0 to release Bryant after 23 years in prison, and a law student from Basile helped him attain that parole.

Kelsey Jenkins, a third-year LSU Law student, worked with Bryant in drafting a memo in support of his early release that was submitted to the committee. LSU Law Professor Robert Lancaster, Director of the LSU Parole & Reentry Clinic, represented Bryant at the hearing.

“Mr. Bryant’s sentence is an example of the flaws in Louisiana’s criminal legal system, but the Parole Committee’s decision to grant him early release shows the importance of periodic evaluation of an individual’s rehabilitation, which Mr. Bryant will continue with the support of the Louisiana Parole Project, Inc.,” said Jenkins.

Louisiana’s Supreme Court upheld Bryant’s sentence in a 5-1 ruling earlier this year. Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson cast the lone dissenting vote and issued a dissenting opinion in which she wrote that Bryant’s “life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose.” Chief Justice Johnson noted that Bryant’s incarceration had cost Louisiana taxpayers approximately $518,667.

Following the Louisiana Supreme Court ruling, the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole subsequently agreed to this morning’s hearing for Bryant’s early release.

Bryant was convicted in 1997 for attempting to steal a pair of hedge clippers from a residential garage in Caddo Parish. Because he had four prior felony convictions before committing this crime — an attempted armed robbery in 1979 (his only violent crime); possession of stolen things in 1987; attempted forgery of a check worth $150 in 1989; and simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling in 1992, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole under Louisiana’s habitual offender statute.

The LSU Parole & Reentry Clinic is an experiential educational program in which students gain practical lawyering skills assisting prisoners seeking early release before the Committee on Parole. The Clinic helps LSU Law students prepare to practice prior to graduation, with a focus on representation of individuals who have served long-prison sentences — often individuals who were sentenced to extreme sentences when they were children. The Clinic collaborates closely with the Louisiana Parole Project, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides housing, support, and transitional services to long-term prisoners reintegrating into society.

“Students in the Parole & Reentry Clinic are phenomenal advocates for their clients. Their work helps hone their lawyering skills and better prepare them for practice regardless of whatever area of law they choose,” said Lancaster. “Their experience in the Clinic also exposes them to the systemic deficiencies in the criminal legal system that lead to harsh and unfair sentences for many, including Fair Wayne Bryant. My hope is that they will continue to work to improve the legal system throughout their future careers as lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and legislators.”

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