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A Life Sentence Went Way Too Far, But a Full Pardon Would Do The Same

A version of this story originally ran in The Virginian-Pilot on Jan 30, 2015.

A miscarriage of justice is a terrible thing. It can let the guilty go free, or imprison the innocent. It can result in punishment that's lenient, or barbaric.

It can also turn a punk into a martyr.

And that is what's happening in the case of Norfolk's Travion Blount.

When he was 15, Blount took part in an armed robbery. When he was 17, he ignored the urging of his lawyer and mother and the example of his co-defendants to plead guilty to several felonies and face about 18 years in prison.

Instead, Blount's gang-banging crimes and know-it-all attitude netted him guilty verdicts on 49 charges and a shocking prison sentence: Six life terms plus 118 years.

As a result of this miscarriage of justice, Blount has become a minor celebrity, with locals staging a rally in support last year and with his young face plastered across newspaper front pages – including The Pilot's – and on T-shirts.

This week, Angela Blount arrived in Richmond with a petition imploring the governor to pardon her son. She collected the signatures of more than 14,000 people.

"I really think he's paid his dues," his mother said.

No he hasn't. Not yet, anyway.

Blount, 24, has been in prison about eight years. His co-defendants, who admitted their crimes, listened to smart people around them and cooperated with authorities, were sentenced to 10 and 13 years each.

Blount's lawyer, John Coggeshall, has suggested that a 15- to 20-year sentence would be appropriate.

That sounds about right.

For those who know nothing about Blount except his pitiable situation, here are a few details that appeared in a lengthy Pilot story in November 2013:

When Blount was 9 years old, he began "skipping school and getting in trouble." When he was 11, he formed a close friendship with a gang member and joined the Crips. When he was picked up for armed robbery four years later, he was repeating sixth grade. For the fourth time.

In other words, Travion Blount was on an express train to prison before he even hit puberty.

Last year, The Pilot brought national attention to Blount's predicament with a front-page story headlined, "Life Times Six."

Reporter Lou Hansen wrote that "Travion Blount might be serving the harshest punishment delivered to any American teenager for a crime not involving murder."

No one was killed or even shot during the robbery. But pointing guns at terrorized people and taking their possessions are serious crimes.

This trio was just one nervous trigger finger away from capital murder.

Their haul that night was a little cash, some marijuana and a few cell phones. But the threesome got caught. The older guys wisely pleaded guilty; the juvenile foolishly refused.

Life times six. Plus 118.

Before he left office, Gov. Bob McDonnell decided to show Blount some mercy. He commuted part of the sentence, slashing it to 40 years.

That was still insanely long.

According to news reports, McDonnell had been predisposed to grant Blount clemency but balked when he learned that the inmate had "pleaded guilty to other robberies and later violated prison rules."

In August, The Pilot reported that a federal judge threw out the reduced sentence, ruling that McDonnell didn't have the authority to grant unconditional commutations, "based on a 19th century case."

Blount's six life terms and 118 years were back.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe can right this wrong and should. Coggeshall says the governor can grant a conditional pardon that reduces Blount's sentence, making it closer to those of his co-defendants.

But a release now? That would be just one more miscarriage of justice.

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