Memphis NAACP asks Lee to pardon Courtney Anderson after reinstating 160-year prison sentence
The NAACP Memphis branch, joined by its statewide counterpart, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, is calling on Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to consider granting clemency to Courtney Anderson, a man who was sentenced to more than 160 years in prison for a series of non-violent crimes.
Anderson appeared inside NAACP headquarters in Memphis on Monday, surrounded by supporters including Van Turner, a former Shelby County commissioner and former president of the NAACP’s Memphis chapter, NAACP of Memphis Executive Director Vicki Terry and other local activists.
Anderson was re-sentenced to time served by Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Paula Skahan in December 2022, shortening the sentence from 163 years to the 25 years he had already served. The ruling came after Anderson’s attorney filed a motion to reopen the post-conviction proceedings.
Less than a year later, on October 18, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Skahan’s ruling, saying it was “nothing more than an improper attempt to mitigate petitioner’s sentence under the guise of a motion to reopen” Anderson’s case after Tennessee’s conclusion. Conviction proceedings and Anderson must serve his full original sentence.
Turner, in addition to asking Lee for help, urged the appeals court Monday to reconsider its ruling, and for the Tennessee Supreme Court to take up Anderson’s case if the appeals court denies it.
“A conviction of 163 years has been returned, which is very puzzling and very troubling,” Turner said. “Since Mr. Anderson came out, he’s become part of the solution. He’s the one who talks to the young people who are committing violent crimes, who are in gangs, who are doing those things that we don’t want to see. “They will listen to Mr. Anderson. Mr. Anderson is in a position to tell these young men what not to do, and because he has been where he has been, they will listen to him.”
Anderson was convicted in the late 1990s on multiple counts of felony theft, felony forgery, and one misdemeanor count of possession of a handgun in a public place. At sentencing, then-Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Joseph Dailey sentenced Anderson to the maximum time on each count, which was ultimately set, after some modifications, at 162 years, 11 months and 29 days.
During the December hearing, where Skahan reduced Anderson’s sentence to time served, the Court of Appeal quoted her as saying Daily’s sentence was “too long.”
Anderson, speaking at Monday’s news conference, said he doesn’t think he will be free from that sentence until he actually gets out of prison.
“When we get in [prison]”You see the birds, they’re free. They fly in and out anytime they want,” Anderson said. So you sit and wish you had the same wings as they do. But you don’t. This is the situation day after day. When I was free, I went out and looked at the birds. I’ve got my wings now. I’m free. And now I’m back fighting again, trying to stay free. This is the issue I am dealing with. “I’m trying to stay free.”
In the 10 months since his release from prison, Anderson said he has been trying to tell people about what he went through in an attempt to dissuade them from going down a similar path as him. He said some people listened and others didn’t, but he said he would keep trying.
Turner acknowledged that a coalition of people needed to be formed to support Anderson’s pardon, which he said has an application “already on file” with the governor’s office. He also said he believed Lee’s previous work in hiring people with prior convictions and experience granting clemency would be a big help in Anderson’s case.
“It is my understanding that before he became governor, he ran a company that employed ex-felons,” Turner said. “So this is something that is near and dear to what he believes in and his value system, before he became governor. I will point out that he has granted clemency in some cases recently, and this is an appropriate case for clemency.”
Lucas Fenton is the criminal justice reporter for The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at Lucas.Finton@commercialappeal.com and followed on Twitter @LucasFinton.
This article originally appeared on the Memphis Business Appeal: The Memphis NAACP is asking Lee to vacate Courtney Anderson’s 160-year prison sentence