Trump grants clemency to Clarksville man serving life sentence

Posted at 10:02 AM, Jan 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 21:35:12-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — President Donald Trump has granted clemency to a Clarksville man who was serving a mandatory life sentence for drug-related charges.

Trump commuted the sentence for Chris Young as part of his last-minute pardons and commutations before leaving office.

Former federal judge Kevin Sharp, who sentenced Young to life in prison, later became one of his biggest allies, saying the life sentence was "cruel and unjust." At the time, Sharp's hands were tied because the sentence was mandatory.

Young had two prior drug-related convictions when he was 18 and 19 years old. Under the federal three-strikes law, a third conviction meant an automatic life sentence.

"That was not justice in any way shape or form," said Sharp to NewsChannel 5 on Wednesday. "Strikes one and two technically fit the definition but they were very minor so then he gets the third conviction and he’s got a mandatory life sentence."

In 2014, Chris Young was sentenced after being convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, attempted possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

"I've thought about it a lot over the years since, a seven or eight-year sentence max is probably what he deserves," Sharp told NewsChannel 5 in 2018.

Young's sentencing didn't sent well with Sharp so he eventually stepped down as a federal judge and joined forces with celebrity Kim Kardashian to lobby President Donald Trump to give Young a commutation. In 2018, they landed a meeting with President Trump.

"And then when he didn’t do anything with it right away, I thought well this is just going to go into a file somewhere never to be thought of again," said Sharp.

Late Tuesday night, Sharp got word that Young will get to walk free.

The former judge says there's a certain irony that a politician granted Young clemency, but he was in this situation in the first place because of what's wrong with politics. "Politicians don’t get elected and re-elected by appearing to be soft on crime, so there tends to be this rush to see how harsh we can make sentencing," he said.

Sharp now hopes lawmakers will consider scaling back some mandatory minimum sentences to give discretion back to judges. "Part of what you ask a judge to do is weigh these factors to come up with the most appropriate sentence for the person and the conduct," said Sharp.

As for Chris Young, Sharp says commutation couldn't have come soon enough. Young is diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia and struggled to keep that under control while in prison. "This was important for him - not just to end this prison sentence, but to be able to get back out, be with his family, to get the healthcare that he needs," he said.

Sharp also hopes to meet with Young again, only under much different circumstances compared to their first encounter. "Shake his hand and say sorry," said Sharp.

Related story: Nashville man among last-minute pardons granted by Trump