Dwight Anthony Goddard spent years trying to get out of federal prison after he was convicted of trying to sell 93 rocks of crack cocaine near Milledgeville.
He filed a flurry of paperwork to try to get evidence thrown out of court. He tried to get his sentence reduced after the laws changed. He was turned down time and time again, even by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Then an even higher power decided to unlock his prison cell: President Barack Obama.
Obama offered clemency to Goddard this week, setting his prison sentence to expire July 28. That frees Goddard as many as six years early.
Goddard is the first person in the area to be granted clemency, said Tina Hunt, executive director of the Federal Defenders of the Middle District of Georgia.
“That’s great news,” she said.
Hunt said clemency overturns excessive sentences given to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom face far longer sentences for selling crack cocaine compared to powdered cocaine.
“I think we all understand that the war on drugs really was a failure, to say the least. The prisons are overfilled with nonviolent offenders who got very harsh sentences because of the drug laws,” she said.
U.S. Attorney Michael Moore said he did not oppose Goddard’s application to have his sentence commuted.
“I had the opportunity to review Mr. Goddard’s case at the request of the U.S. Pardon attorney, and given the current law which would be applied today if Mr. Goddard faced the same charges, I am of the opinion that he has served, or is close to having served, a sentence of incarceration which would likely be imposed today were he sentenced under the current statutes,” Moore said in an email to The Telegraph.
Requests for comment from the White House were not returned Friday. The Telegraph could not find law enforcement officers or his last attorney from the case.
But extensive court records show how Goddard’s legal fight evolved over more than a decade. Court records list more than 160 filings and seven different attorneys. A printed copy of the case history itself spans 13 pages.
The case started when a drug task force agent told a Baldwin County deputy that he’d gotten a tip about Goddard selling crack cocaine from a brown paper sack out of an Oldsmobile. The deputy found Goddard at a car wash on Harrisburg Road outside Milledgeville.
The Oldsmobile wasn’t there, but Goddard got up from a chair holding a tire iron. The deputy told him the tire iron wasn’t needed and put it down, then said he was going to search Goddard. He asked Goddard if he had any drugs, and Goddard said he had some in a pocket.
Inside were 93 crack cocaine rocks, individually packaged. They were later estimated at about 10 grams, or about a third of an ounce.
Godddard, who then listed a Decatur apartment as his home, was arrested. His case landed in federal court in Macon. One of his court filings, written with careful handwriting that might not have been his, said he doesn’t know why his case didn’t go through the state courts.
But Goddard pleaded guilty to one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, on the condition that he be allowed to fight the evidence against him, saying it should have been suppressed as part of an improper search. He drew a 235-month sentence, or nearly 20 years.
Goddard fought the evidence over and over, but lost time and time again. When the laws changed to reduce the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, he tried to fight to have the new sentencing guidelines applied retroactively to his case.
U.S. District Judge C. Ashley Royal ruled in February 2013 that Goddard’s sentence was based on sentencing guidelines for career offenders. State court records showed he’d had been convicted of a cocaine charge in Baldwin County in 1994, and cocaine and marijuana charges in Bartow County in 1992. A federal appeals court ruled in 2013 that Goddard’s career offender status would keep him in prison. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his appeal.
Obama’s announcement of clemency came Tuesday. It followed Obama’s year-old guidelines to give clemency under certain conditions, including for people who served at least 10 years of a prison sentence and who were nonviolent, low-level offenders without significant ties to big gangs.
And so a legal fight for a drug dealer’s freedom that started 15 years ago with a drug bust at a car wash got settled in the White House, by the president himself.
The name of that car wash where it all started? Ace in the Hole.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.