- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 31, 2006

DALLAS — A judge has formally requested that a man he sentenced to life in prison in 1990 for a single minor probation violation be released.

The request by Judge Keith Dean came after months of inaction and considerable attention in the national press.

Tyrone Brown was 17 in 1990 when the judge placed him on probation for a $2 armed robbery in which there were no injuries. Judge Dean later that year changed the verdict to life in prison after Brown tested positive for marijuana.

Judge Dean, a Republican, was defeated in November’s election in a torrent of Democratic victories in Dallas County.

The judge did not explain in two letters he wrote to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Dec. 11 and Dec. 15 why he made the ruling in 1990, which some criminal specialists termed “too harsh.” Judge Dean did not return calls for comment.

Brown’s sentencing received little attention in 1990, but criticism of the judge’s ruling began after a series of articles were published in April in the Dallas Morning News.

The newspaper contrasted Brown’s fate to a well-connected local murderer on probation who tested positive several times for cocaine but was never punished and was allowed by Judge Dean to stop taking drug tests.

ABC’s “20/20” featured Brown’s case in November. The story led a group of outraged citizens to start a “Free Tyrone Brown” Web site and increased scrutiny of what some termed sentencing inequalities in the local court system.

Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill started efforts to obtain a commutation for Brown after the Dallas Morning News questioned the verdict and Judge Dean contacted him. Mr. Hill said Judge Dean was in favor of Brown being freed, but did not want to initiate the move himself.

The judge refused to discuss the case with “20/20” or local reporters.

In two letters to the parole board, Judge Dean said he merely was endorsing the recommendations of the district attorney’s office, which “has concluded that Brown has been rehabilitated and no longer poses a risk to others or himself.”

The next move would be for the parole board to notify the victim of the $2 robbery and offer him a chance to comment. The seven-member board then would vote, and a majority opinion would be sent to Gov. Rick Perry for a final decision.

Parole board members have not commented on the case. However, the board’s longtime general counsel, Laura McElroy, said her office had been working closely with the district attorney’s office and the judge. “I’m hoping to get it done,” she said.

Though Miss McElroy termed the judge’s ruling “one of the worst” examples of judicial overreach, she said state law did not require that the judge explain his ruling.

As for Brown’s victim, Bill Hathaway, he won’t be arguing against the prisoner’s release.

“I’m all for it,” he told a Dallas Morning News last week. “The guy’s served his time and then some.”

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