Obama commutes RI man’s federal prison sentence

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – President Obama has commuted the sentence of a Rhode Island man who was convicted of federal narcotics charges in 2006.

John Barnes, of Greene, RI, currently incarcerated at Fort Dix in New Jersey, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and 10 years supervised release back in August 2006 after being found guilty of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base.

Barnes’ mother, Lynn Barnes, told Eyewitness News on Friday that she was with her son’s wife when they received the call from Barnes in prison, telling his family he would be coming home years earlier than expected.

According to federal court documents, Johnston police detectives investigated Barnes after receiving a tip that he was selling crack cocaine; detectives arrested him after he allegedly made a cocaine sale in May of 2005.

Investigators found “large quantities, consistent with distribution, of crack and powder cocaine” after a search of his apartment. The case went to trial in federal court and Barnes was found guilty on both counts.

Barnes made several unsuccessful attempts to get his conviction vacated, the last ending in early 2015. In a response to that motion, a federal judge wrote that Barnes was not eligible to have his sentence reduced because he had been sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years imprisonment.

Friday, President Obama announced he was commuting Barnes’ sentence to expire in March 2017. Obama commuted 71 other federal sentences Friday, most involving cocaine.

Barnes is the second Rhode Islander to have his sentence commuted by the president this year. Charles Brown of Providence was facing a life sentence on cocaine distribution charges but it was commuted to expire in September.

Photo credit: The Providence Journal
Charlie Brown (Photo credit: The Providence Journal)

Obama has been working to ease punishments for non-violent drug offenders, and has commuted hundreds of sentences. Under his initiative, inmates who have served ten years of their federal sentence are eligible to apply for clemency.