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Newly-founded city coalition taking on perceived inequities in legal system
By Alex Bridges - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Quincy N. Wilkins served 12 years of a lengthy prison term for his role in a violent 1997 bank heist in Boyce before Gov. Tim Kaine granted his clemency in 2009.
But a group of area residents claim many more people sit in prisons serving sentences that don't fit the crime or the criminal.
A new organization, tentatively called the Justice Coalition, held a press conference Monday at Shiloh Baptist Church during which Wilkins and others spoke of what they called inequities in the courts and legal system. Supporters also say they hope the U.S. Department of Justice will investigate their allegations of inequities in the system.
"I was sentenced over 10 years ago to what many agreed was a very unjust sentence, a very heavy-handed sentence," Wilkins said. "Ten years later the community came together in support to see that sentence was overturned."
Supporters of Charceil Kellam -- a Clarke County woman serving life plus 30 years in a federal prison for drug distribution convictions -- say they hope the same can happen to her. Kellam's son, Perry Davis, and other relatives, say the long penitentiary term does not fit the crimes she committed.
Larry Yates, an organizer of the group, and other supporters took their cause to Sen. Jim Webb's office in March and met with his chief counsel. They presented documents claiming inequities in the regional justice system as well as in the federal courts, and related their own experiences with the issues.
"We shared, particularly, the hardships of the disparity of the sentences that are being handed out in the community versus, you know, the sentences that you would get from an average drug-related offense and different crimes that are committed," said Elecia Hackley, Perry Davis' cousin. "[Webb] strongly encouraged us, or his assistant encouraged us, to continue to be active in the community and get the word out while he would continue to work with us and stay in communications with us and assist where he could as a senator for the state of Virginia."
Wilkins told the group of his 50-year prison term.
"The disparity of the sentence was evident because, in this area in general, the average length of sentence is only five years," Wilkins said. "My parents fought for many years trying to ... bring attention to the case and try to get somebody to just listen."
As Wilkins said, the effort to seek clemency grew from a small group such as the one in the church to a larger effort. A petition drive collected about 1,100 signatures. Local attorneys helped push for early release. Wilkins' co-defendants, Duane L. Clarke and Saifuddin Al-Khalili, received prison terms for their roles in the bank robbery. All three men received clemency.
"This was something good that came out of something very bad, and I took full responsibility for what I've done," Wilkins said. "But also the community took responsibility for what was done to one of them and, together, you know, we were able to kind of right, you know, wrongs that have been committed."
Dorothy Davis of Clarke County recalled the day the men returned to the community after their release.
"When Quincy and the other young men returned home, at that time I said 'this community should not allow another inequity, injustice to occur,' and it has happened again," she said, referring to Kellam's case. "We live in a modern society, supposedly. We should be aware of human rights. We're not."
"I don't think anybody is saying she wasn't guilty of something," Mrs. Davis added. "But ... it's as though she was the headpin in a cartel which brought drugs to the entire country."
Perry Davis and others said few people convicted of violent offenses have received as long of a prison term as Kellam.
"It's just another dark, dark spot in our community," Dorothy Davis said.
The organization meets again at the church May 24 at 7 p.m.