In his first extensive public comments about the case, Nixon told KMBC 9 News he will review the life sentence for Jeff Mizanskey before his term ends in 2016.
“It’s a very serious amount of time,” Nixon said. “If the laws change after someone is sentenced, then you want to give those things a close look.”
Mizanskey’s marijuana case is gaining worldwide attention with more than 386,000 signatures, online, appealing to Nixon for a pardon.
Mizanskey was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1996 for marijuana possession and distribution. A Pettis County judge gave Mizanskey the toughest sentence possible through Missouri’s version of the three-strikes law for drug crimes. At the time of his sentencing, Mizanskey had two other marijuana convictions on his record.
“I know they can say I had a chance, because this is the third strike,” Mizanskey said. “There’s people that get caught with tons, and they’re out on the streets.”
Since the Air Force veteran went to prison in 1993, he has seen marijuana laws relax in Missouri and around the country.
Also, Missouri’s version of the three strikes drug law, called the “prior and persistent offender” statute, will go away in 2017, allowing the possibility of parole or probation for third-time offenders. The overhaul by Missouri lawmakers has no effect, retroactively, on Mizanskeys’ case, but it does bring fresh arguments for marijuana advocates like Show Me Cannabis, appealing on Mizanskeys behalf.
The latest numbers from the United States Sentencing Commission show marijuana traffickers only spend an average of 34 months in prison.
Mizanskey has already served 21 years.
“I’ve got an extraordinary cruel and unusual punishment,” Mizanskey said.
Mizanskey, now a great-grandfather, does admit he smoked marijuana when he was younger to help with back pain from his job as a carpenter and tradesman. Police caught Mizanskey with a half-pound of marijuana in 1984. He was caught again with a few ounces in 1991, his second strike in the eyes of the court.
Strike three came in a marijuana bust at a Sedalia motel in 1993. Mizanskey said he was innocent and had no intent to possess or distribute seven pounds of marijuana, as police and prosecutors said. He was offered a 25-year plea deal, but took his chances at trial and lost.
“I would hate to plead guilty to something I’m not guilty of,” he said.
Out of appeals, Mizanskey’s last chance is a pardon from Governor Nixon.
“I think I could do a whole lot more for this state out there than I can in here,” Mizanskey said from the Jefferson City Correctional Center, a maximum security prison 9 miles east of Nixon’s office at the Missouri State Capitol.
Nixon said he has not made a decision, either way, in Mizanskeys executive clemency review.
I don’t want to tilt one way or the other, Nixon said. I haven’t had a final meeting on it.
Nixon has approved only 10 requests for clemency since he took office in 2009. He has denied 322.
As of late January, Missouri had 2,436 clemency cases pending.
Mizanskeys son, Chris, said it is welcome news the governor will take a close look at his dad’s case.
“Twenty years of my life, I haven’t had my father with me,” Chris Mizanskey said from his home in Sedalia.
Chris Mizanskey said he wants to introduce his 10-month-old son to his dad outside prison.
“I can’t wait,” Chris Mizanskey said. “It would be one of the happiest days of my life.”
Jeff Mizanskey agreed, from a small plastic seat in the Jefferson City prison visiting area: “I dream about being able to grab my grandkids.”
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