A man who spent over three decades in prison for a stealing $50 from a Bessemer bakery had his sentence cut short after a hearing on Wednesday.
Alvin Kennard, now 58, was convicted of first-degree robbery for the January 24, 1983 robbery of Highlands Bakery. Court records show $50.75 was stolen in the incident.
Under Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act, then 22-year-old Kennard was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. When he was 18, Kennard had been charged with burglary, grand larceny, and receiving stolen property in connection with a break-in at an unoccupied service station. He pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree burglary for that crime in 1979, and was given a suspended sentence of three years on probation.
Those prior crimes, which were not Class A felonies, led to his sentence under the Habitual Felony Offender Act in 1984.
Following a hearing Wednesday, Jefferson County Bessemer Cutoff Circuit Judge David Carpenter resentenced Kennard to time served, and ordered the man’s release from prison.
Kennard has served 36 years in prison for his crime.
Before being resentenced, Kennard thanked the judge. “I’m sorry for what I did… I was wrong,” he said. Kennard added that if released, he would live with family in Bessemer and work in carpentry.
Prosecutors from the Jefferson County Bessemer Cutoff District Attorney’s Office did not oppose Kennard’s change in sentence. “But let me be clear, this is not about $50,” Assistant District Attorney Lane Tolbert said in court.
In 2013, the state created the Alabama Sentencing Commission and adopted sentence guidelines. If Kennard had committed first-degree robbery and was sentenced today, he would have been eligible for a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life with the possibility of parole.
Kennard did not walk out of court a free man, and will have to be processed out by the Alabama Department of Corrections. No information was provided by Kennard’s attorney as to how long that process could take.
According to motions filed by Kennard’s attorney Carla Crowder of the Alabama Appleseed Center, Kennard currently resides in the faith dorm at Donaldson Correctional Facility and has shown “exemplary behavior” during his time in prison. Kennard hasn’t received a prison disciplinary in 14 years and hasn’t had a behavior citation in 11 years. Kennard also has a good reputation among the correctional officers at Donaldson, the defense’s motion said.
While the motion asking for a new sentence requested a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole, Crowder said in court Kennard has “truly been rehabilitated” and asked for his release with a sentence of time served. She said if released, Kennard would have extraordinary family and community support.
When the judge asked who would support Kennard if he was released, more than a dozen friends and family members stood up.
Those same friends and family chanted, “Thank you Jesus,” when Carpenter resentenced Kennard. They thanked Carpenter before leaving his courtroom.
Kennard’s sentence reduction comes after another Alabama inmate, Geneva Cooley, was released from prison after having her sentence of life without parole changed to life with the possibility of parole.
Cooley was the only woman in Alabama serving such a sentence for drug crimes.
Cooley, 71, was convicted of drug trafficking in 2006. She was visiting Birmingham from her hometown of New York City acting as a drug courier in 2002, and had not left the Amtrak station when arrested. Cooley testified during a hearing earlier this year that she had the small bag of drugs for less than five minutes before she was arrested.
She was sentenced to the mandatory, life without the possibility of parole, and the state appeals courts confirmed her conviction a year later. In December, her attorneys filed another appeal.
Court records show Cooley was also housed in the faith form at Julia Tutwiler Prison, where she has been sober for 16 years and has participated in many programs. She was only disciplined once, when prison guards found her with an extra blanket on her bed in April 2011.
Last year, the Alabama legislature changed the sentencing law, removing the mandatory life without parole sentence for drug crimes of a certain weight. If sentenced today for the same crime, Cooley would not be eligible for the life without parole sentence.
In March, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Stephen Wallace resentenced Cooley to life in prison with the possibility of parole; but, her time already served in prison meant she was immediately eligible for a parole hearing. According to ADOC records, her request for parole was granted earlier this month.
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