Pubdate: Mon, 10 Jul 2000
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2000 Star Tribune
Contact:  425 Portland Ave., Minneapolis MN 55488
Fax: 612-673-4359
Author: Chris Graves


President Clinton has commuted the federal drug sentences of a man and four
women, including a Minneapolis woman convicted a decade ago during
prosecution of the state's largest cocaine ring. Serena Nunn, 30, who has
served 10 years of her 14-year sentence for conspiracy to possess and
distribute cocaine, was ordered freed from a federal penitentiary in

Nunn told ABC World News Sunday that she was stunned by Clinton's action. "I
thought they were joking with me at first," she said. "After I realized it
was actually happening, I began to tremble ... and right after that the
tears just started flowing."

Nunn was one of several women featured in a 1997 Star Tribune series. It
outlined how women who played minor roles in illegal drug operations, but
refused to cooperate with authorities when under investigation in order to
protect boyfriends or husbands, receive harsher federal sentences than their
male counterparts.

Nunn, who was dating the son of drug kingpin Ralph (Plukey) Duke, was
sentenced to 14 years, while one of the leaders of the large-scale cocaine
operation was sentenced to seven years. Duke's operation was selling more
than 50 pounds of cocaine a week. While a student at North High School in
Minneapolis, Nunn was homecoming queen, a cheerleader and a member of the
school newspaper and yearbook staffs.

"The president felt they had served a disproportionate amount of time," said
Jake Siewert, a White House spokesman. "They received much more severe
sentences than their husbands and boyfriends."

Federal, state and local officials -- including the judge who sentenced Nunn
- -- wrote letters to Clinton encouraging the commutation.

After Nunn petitioned the government for the commutation, U.S. District
Judge David S. Doty wrote a three-page letter to Clinton saying that he
favored cutting her sentence because he is barred from correcting an error
he believed in retrospect was made in her sentence, Doty said Sunday. He
also indicated that he believed the federal mandatory minimum sentencing
guidelines were unfair as applied to Nunn.

"At the time I sentenced her, I was not happy," Doty said, adding that
Nunn's case is the first in which he has asked that one of his sentences be
commuted. "It happens not daily but weekly that we are giving sentences in
drug cases that are horrendous. None of us are happy with mandatory

Those guidelines were imposed by Congress in the 1980s and require mandatory
sentences for a number of drug violations. The guidelines have been
criticized by a number of federal judges who complain that they take away
their sentencing discretion. Before writing the letter, Doty said, he called
the man who prosecuted Nunn, Jon Hopeman, and asked his opinion. "He said:
'Do it.'" Doty said he was surprised by Hopeman's response. Doty said
Hopeman told him that he too believed the sentence was "ridiculous ... and
way overboard."

Hopeman could not be reached Sunday evening.

Barry Voss, Nunn's attorney 10 years ago, said that he was unaware of
Clinton's decision but is pleased that Nunn will be set free. "The sentence
was extremely harsh, and I also thought it was unfair," said Voss, adding
that he was pleased to hear that Hopeman did not object to the commutation.

"It was guilt by association. I'm very happy for her," he said. "But she has
10 years she can't make up for." Gov. Jesse Ventura, Rep. Martin Sabo,
D-Minn., and Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch all had written to
Clinton backing her request for the commutation.

Doty said that Nunn's stellar behavior in prison also swayed his opinion.
She has taken college courses at Arizona State University and plans to
continue postgraduate work.

Also granted commutations on Friday were Louise House, Shawndra Mills, Amy
Pofahl and Alian Orozco. Clinton also granted 16 pardons. Clinton has rarely
used his clemency powers, according to ABC.

Pofahl was convicted along with her husband, a Stanford University Law
School graduate and wealthy Dallas businessman, in connection with the drug
Ecstasy. While he received three years' probation, she was sentenced to 24
years without parole. The case was profiled in Glamour magazine last year.

Details of the House and Mills cases were not available from the White
- ---
MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk