Henry Phillips’ case illustrates the importance of revisiting extreme sentences. Mr. Phillips was convicted of purse snatching for taking a wallet off of a McDonald’s counter in 2009. He biked away with $20 in cash after returning the wallet to the victims, who asked him to give it back. The prosecutors invoke the habitual offender, “three strikes law” which required the judge to sentence Mr. Phillips to a life with parole sentence. This was a common practice of prior DA’s administrations in New Orleans that targeted Black men. At the beginning of DA Williams’ tenure, there were over 900 people still incarcerated under this sentencing enhancement in Orleans Parish alone, and almost 94% are Black.
In review of the case, the Civil Rights Division was able to weigh the facts of the case, account for Mr. Phillips’ exceptional conduct while incarcerated, and speak with the victims of the crime. In doing so, we learned that the victims of the crime, who live out of state, were unaware that he had received a life sentence and supported his release. Our office removed the multiple bill, and Mr. Phillips was re-sentenced to time served and released after serving 12 years. Two months since leaving Angola, Mr. Phillips is doing well, in part due to strong support of the Louisiana Parole Project who has provided housing and reentry services for Mr. Phillips.