Obama Commutes Rockford Man's Life Sentence

Cathy Patterson-Lee, standing from left, Cortney Belcher, Rease McClain, Phyllis Payne and Tabitha Robinson gather around Reynolds Wintersmith at the federal prison in Greenville, Ill. (Photo courtesy of Tabitha Robinson / December 19, 2013)
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CHICAGO (AP) -- President Barack Obama has commuted the life sentence of a northern Illinois man sentenced 20 years ago for distributing crack and cocaine.

Under Thursday's order, the sentence of Reynolds Wintersmith Jr. will now expire on April 17. In a prominent 1998 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld sentences given to Wintersmith and four other Illinois men convicted in a drug-selling conspiracy in Rockford.

In all, Obama commuted the sentences of eight people he says were serving unduly harsh sentences for drug crimes. It's the most expansive use yet of his presidential power to free inmates.

Obama made the commutations because the prisoners were sentenced under a system that treated convictions for crack cocaine harsher than powder cocaine. Obama pardoned 13 others for various crimes.

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