What to Know
- Alice Marie Johnson, 63, has spent more than two decades behind bars and was not eligible for parole
- "BEST NEWS EVER!!!!" Kim Kardashian West tweeted. She championed Johnson's case after seeing a video about her on Twitter
- President Trump has seemed drawn to causes advocated by conservatives, celebrities or those who once appeared on his former reality show
Hours after she was released from prison on a commuted sentence, Alice Marie Johnson was joyous and thankful for President Donald Trump's clemency and the intervention from reality TV star Kim Kardashian West that brought Johnson's case to his attention.
In an interview on the "Today" show, Johnson called her commuted life sentence a miracle: "I know that only God could have touched Kim Kardashian's heart like that."
Kardashian West had championed Johnson's case after seeing a video about the 63-year-old grandmother by the digital news company Mic. The celebrity went to the White House in May to meet with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a senior adviser, and the president as well. A week later, Johnson was freed.
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"We have connected," Johnson said of Kardashian West. "She said that she felt something when she saw and heard my story and I'm just so thankful for it. I can't explain it. It's a miracle."
Trump tweeted Thursday: "Good luck to Alice Johnson. Have a wonderful life!"
Kardashian West called Johnson's release the "BEST NEWS EVER!!!!" on Wednesday and said in a statement that she hopes to continue working with organizations that push for clemency for deserving prisoners.
"I'm so grateful to President Trump, Jared Kushner and to everyone who has showed compassion and contributed countless hours to this important moment for Ms. Alice Marie Johnson," Kardashian West said. "Her pardon and forthcoming release is inspirational and gives hope to so many others who are also deserving of a second chance."
Johnson was convicted in 1996 on eight criminal counts related to a Memphis-based cocaine trafficking operation involving more than a dozen people. The 1994 indictment describes dozens of deliveries and drug transactions, many involving Johnson.
She was sentenced to life in prison in 1997. Appeals court judges and the Supreme Court rejected her appeals. Court records show she had a motion pending for a reduction in her sentence, but federal prosecutors were opposed, saying in a court filing that the sentence is in accord with federal guidelines, based on the large quantity of drugs involved.
A criminal justice advocacy site, CAN-DO, and one of Johnson's lawyers said a request for clemency was rejected when Barack Obama was president. The reasons are unclear.
The White House said Johnson took responsibility for her behavior and has been a model prisoner.
Video footage showed Johnson run ecstatically toward her family Wednesday night after she was freed from federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama.
"I'm just so thankful, I feel like my life is starting over again. This is a beautiful day," Johnson told reporters at the time, thanking the president and revealing that it was Kardashian West who told her over the phone that she'd be released.
Johnson's conviction will remain on her record after her sentence was commuted.
She said on the "Today" show Thursday that she plans to use the second chance she's been given to advocate for other "first-time, nonviolent offenders who pose no safety risk to their communities."
"I can't just walk away and forget about those who are left behind," Johnson said.
She was seated next to daughter Catina Scales, who said it's still unbelievable she's sitting with her mother.
Johnson said she'll never make the mistake of taking her "family and life for granted" again.
Commuting her sentence was Trump's latest act of clemency in recent weeks. He recently pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza, who was convicted of a campaign finance violation, and granted a posthumous pardon to boxing's first black heavyweight champion, clearing Jack Johnson's name more than 100 years after what many saw as a racially charged conviction.
As with Alice Johnson, the boxer's pardon had a celebrity backer — actor Sylvester Stallone, who Trump said had brought the story to his attention in a phone call.
And more could be coming. A White House official has told NBC News that dozens of pardons have been prepared for Trump and he is considering them, though there was no indication he will move ahead with any or all of them.
This official did not name the people under consideration or what category of offense they would be pardoned for.
Trump has suggested he was considering acting to commute the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is serving 14 years in prison for corruption, and celebrity homemaker Martha Stewart, convicted of insider trading.