St. Louis activists and community leaders have called on Gov. Mike Parson to pardon protester Joshua Williams for an event that occurred in 2014.
State Rep. Bruce Franks, Jr., held a press conference Friday at the St. Louis County Justice Center objecting to the eight-year sentence Williams is serving.
Williams was a part of a protest in December 2014 following the police-involved shooting of Antonio Martin. While looting was taking place at a QuikTrip in Berkeley, Williams set fire to a trash can outside.
“The only item that actually suffered any damage was a bag of Doritos,” Franks said. “Individuals who have committed similar crimes, which resulted in far worse, are serving shorter sentences than Josh.”
Williams pled guilty to arson, burglary and theft and was sentenced to eight years in prison. So far, he’s served two years of his sentence.
Franks said he is optimistic about speaking to the governor on this issue. He said he had been in contact with former Gov. Eric Greitens prior to Parson taking office about a potential pardon.
“I think he respects a certain perspective and communication,” Franks said. “One comment that he made when he signed my bill a couple months ago was that he doesn’t know everything about the particular communities that he doesn’t come from, but he’s willing to learn, and he’s willing to move forward.”
Even if an individual pleaded guilty to a crime, they can still be pardoned, according to Missouri law, said Saint Louis University Law Professor Anders Walker. But he said Gov. Parson may take other factors into considering if he reviews Williams’ sentence.
“Lighting a cigarette at a gas station can be very dangerous,” Walker said. “Even if it’s a trash can outside the QuikTrip, it could lead to a major explosion, so it really is going to depend on how the governor perceives this.”
Walker said the penalty for arson can vary, but typically sentences can range from five to 15 years. Potential harm could also factor into the sentence, he said.
“If it’s just a trash can at Forest Park, then an eight-year sentence would be really high,” Walker said. “If people were around and this could have created a major fire, that’s more in the range of first-degree arson.”
St. Louis County Circuit Judge John D. Warner, Jr., stated he would “make an example” of Williams, Franks said in a statement.
Franks said Williams does not have any prior convictions and has spent time doing work to promote community causes.
“When Josh got locked up the first time and he got out on bond, he started participating in our programs, the 28 to Life, doing police-community relationship stuff,” Franks said. “Josh is a great kid, he just needs a second chance.”
A spokesperson for Parson said the governor did not immediately have a comment on the matter.
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