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Cocaine dealer whose sentence was commuted by Obama shoots woman, leaving her brain dead

By Jimmy Adeel
|
May 20, 2023

A man whose life sentence was commuted by the Obama administration is now back in the hands of justice. Alton Mills, 54, a former cocaine dealer whose sentence was commuted in 2015, is now behind bars again.

He faces attempted murder charges following a road rage incident that has left a woman in a brain-dead state, the Daily Mail reported.

Mills had previously served 22 years of a life sentence for small-scale drug offenses. His life significantly turned when then-President Barack Obama intervened, granting Mills a second chance. But a recent incident in the suburbs of Chicago now puts him at risk of another life sentence.

Road Rage Incident Sparks Tragedy

Mills' recent arrest followed a shooting on an expressway in the early hours of a Sunday. The victim, who remains unidentified, is not expected to survive her injuries, CWB Chicago. This incident occurred after Mills and a group of friends exited a nightclub and ended up at a red light together.

Assistant State Attorney Kathryn Morrissey stated that the incident happened after Mills and three friends left a south suburban Chicago nightclub. At Mills' bail hearing on Monday, Morrissey presented the case details.

She explained how a car pulled up behind Mills' SUV at a traffic light and went around Mills' vehicle as the light turned green without honking or making significant noise, leading to Mills allegedly chasing the car and firing several rounds from his driver's side window.

One of the bullets tragically hit a woman sleeping in the back of the head, leading to immediate brain death.

The front passenger captured a blurry image of the shooter's license plate and even recited the plate number on video. This evidence led the Illinois State Police to identify and locate Mills quickly.

Mills Arrested and Charged

A search of Mills' residence in Evergreen Park led to the discovery of multiple loose 40-caliber bullets - the same caliber as the ones used in the shooting. Gunshot residue was also found in Mills' vehicle.

Subsequently, Mills admitted to being the shooter and causing "great bodily harm and imminent death" to the victim. He now faces three counts of attempted first-degree murder and is held without bond at the Cook County Jail.

The Path to Clemency

Mills was initially sentenced to life imprisonment for cocaine trafficking due to his third felony conviction. During the Obama administration, a clemency initiative was launched, targeting non-violent, low-level offenders "who were sentenced at the height of the war on drugs and would likely receive substantially lower sentences today."

In the commutation letter sent to Mills, Obama wrote, "I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong and change your life for the better. So good luck and Godspeed," Newsweek reported.

Obama had also faced criticism from Republicans for his decision to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who leaked a significant amount of classified U.S. documents to Wikileaks in 2010.

A Second Chance Turned Sour

After his release, Mills found employment with the Chicago Transit Authority and campaigned actively against mandatory minimum sentencing.

Mills, who had no money, no state ID, or a job after leaving prison, worked as a mechanic for the City of Chicago before becoming a janitor. He got married and spent time with his young granddaughter.

U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Aspen, who presided over Mills' 1994 sentencing hearing, had expressed his belief that Mills' life sentence was excessive. Aspen supported the move to commute Mills' sentence, indicating his belief that Mills would become a positive role model.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, a Democrat, had championed Mills' sentence reduction. Durbin described Mills as a low-level drug courier, earning a mere weekly income of $300. Durbin cited Mills as an example of a successful commutation, stating, "He’s now a contributing member of society."

Following his release, Mills made strides to change his life. The Chicago Transit Authority employed him and actively campaigned against mandatory minimum sentencing. Durbin called Mills a 'neglected casualty' of the 'war on drugs, even inviting him to speak at a U.S. Senate criminal justice forum.

Post-Mills' release, Durbin highlighted studies indicating a decline in recidivism rates and criminal behavior with age. He also emphasized Mills' significant personal growth during his time in prison and the substantial community support waiting for him in Chicago.

Despite these efforts, the recent turn of events comes as a shock, considering the measures that were taken to reduce Mills' sentence back in 2015.

In a previous interview with MSNBC, Mills likened his situation to a goldfish surrounded by sharks, stating, "I hung out with a bunch of goldfishes that were dealing with some sharks, and the sharks caught the goldfishes up, and we were the ones that ended up going to prison." His words now resonate differently, given the recent events and the charges he faces.