President Obama has given significant sentencing breaks to two convicted felons with Chicago ties —a former leader of the FALN, which was tied to bombings across the United States in the fight for Puerto Rican independence, and an ex-top “governor” of the Gangster Disciples.
Obama granted clemency to Oscar Lopez Rivera, 74, who was sentenced to 55 years in prison for his role in the struggle for independence for the U.S. island territory. He was part of the ultranationalist Armed Forces of National Liberation of FALN that has claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings at public and commercial buildings in U.S. cities, including Chicago, New York and Washington, during the 1970s and ’80s.
Puerto Ricans have long called for Lopez’s release, a move that has been opposed by a national police organization, among others. Among his more prominent supporters is U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the Chicago Democrat.
Lopez attorney Jan Susler told The Associated Press that she broke the news to him Tuesday and he said he was extremely grateful.
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Gutierrez was thrilled by Obama’s decision.
“Thank you, President Obama, thank you on behalf of millions of Puerto Ricans on the island and around the world,” Gutierrez said in a statement.
Meanwhile, another prominent supporter, “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, tweeted he would play the title role in the Chicago production the night Lopez goes to see the show.
In other action by the president, Eric “Fat Eric” Wilson, a former “governor” in Gangster Disciples kingpin Larry Hoover’s drug empire, won a commutation. Obama reduced Wilson’s life sentence to 35 years in prison. Wilson, 47, is being held in the federal prison in downstate Pekin and is expected to get out in about 7 years.
After a high-profile federal trial in Chicago, Wilson and six other ranking members of the Gangster Disciples — and a former female Chicago Police gang-crimes officer — were convicted of engaging in a drug conspiracy. Wilson was sentenced on March 10, 1998, records show.
Hoover is currently serving a life sentence in federal prison in Colorado. But he was allegedly running a drug empire from state prison in Illinois in the early 1990s, giving Wilson and his top gang associates orders from behind bars. The key evidence at Wilson’s trial was Hoover’s own secretly recorded words from private meetings in state prison with his trusted lieutenants.
So-called governors like Wilson were responsible for large areas of Gangster Disciples territory, with hundreds of gang members reporting to them, prosecutors said. At the time, then-Cook County State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley called the group an “evil menace to our society.”
On Dec. 12, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) sent a letter to Obama saying Wilson deserved a break in his sentence because of his “extraordinary rehabilitative efforts.” Wilson earned a 4.0 grade average in college in prison while working in the prison steel factory as a skilled welder, Rush said.
Rush added that he didn’t think Wilson would have received a life sentence under current laws.
“I want to thank the president for commuting that young man’s sentence,” said Gator Bradley, a former enforcer for the Gangster Disciples under Hoover who is now a community activist. “This gives hope to other individuals who are locked up in federal prison for life for drug cases, not murder.”
In 2015, the city awarded Wilson $100,000 in reparations for being tortured in 1988 under former police Cmdr. Jon Burge, said his attorney, MiAngel Cody. She said he refused to give a false confession to a murder, but his cousin Ronald Kitchen did. Kitchen spent 21 years behind bars before his conviction was overturned. He received a $6.1 million legal settlement from the city in 2009.
“I am speechless and I am grateful,” Wilson said in a statement released by his attorney. “This commutation finally gives me hope that I will not die in prison. I look forward to joining my fellow torture survivors at the Chicago Torture Justice Center.”