It's official: Tyrone Brown, the man sentenced to life in prison for violating probation with a single marijuana cigarette, is a free man. Brown was released from prison on March 16th.
ABC News' "20/20" documented this story in November 2006. Brown is African-American, poor and without connections. His harsh sentence was contrasted with the mercy shown to a white criminal who murdered someone, then repeatedly violated his parole with cocaine.
The privileged criminal, who was the son of a Baptist minister and the brother-in-law of a U.S. congressman, was never sent to jail, and now even his probation has been lifted.
Brown was involved in an armed robbery that yielded $2. He, too, was first sentenced to probation, but when he violated it just once with a marijuana joint, he was sentenced to life. He has served 17 years. Both men were sentenced by the same judge, Keith Dean.
After the "20/20" report, Dallas voters ousted Dean from the bench, and last week Brown was granted a "conditional pardon" by Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The pardon requires Brown to live with his mother, report to a parole officer, find a job and work with a therapist. The governor's press secretary said those conditions are to help Brown reintegrate into society.
"I still feel like I'm 17,'' Brown told ABC News. After a moving reunion celebration outside the prison, the Brown family gathered in a circle and -- beaming -- put their hands together, shouting, "New life!"
Brown thanked Dallas Morning News reporter Brooks Egerton and ABC News' Jim Avila for spotlighting the inequity of his dilemma.
"You guys really got it going,'' he told ABC News.
Brown was imprisoned in 1990, the year South Africa freed Nelson Mandela and Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait, sparking the first Gulf War.
He said he knows he's got a lot of adjustments to make. He grinned as he viewed photos of relatives on his family's cell phones. "When I went in, a phone looked like a big block of cheese,'' he said.
At turns jubilant, tearful and proud, four generations of the Brown family poured forth from a church bus they'd taken from Dallas to Huntsville to greet the pardoned man -- who spent half his natural life in prison.
When he returned to his home, Brown said he asked himself, "Is this real?
"I mean it's a blessing just to be here," he said. "I still can't believe it."
It's a new world for Brown, freed from unequal justice, and he says he is determined to look forward, not back, without hard feelings, even for the judge who sentenced him to life for smoking a joint.
"Holding on to that anger it ain't going to solve nothing," he said.
"I'll remember this day for the rest of my life."
Here is more on "20/20's" original report, which aired on November 3, 2006:
Do you believe the scales of justice tilt in favor of the rich and powerful? To explore this question, "20/20" went to Texas to examine the fate of two men who came before the same judge.
Alex Wood was accused of killing a male prostitute in Dallas in 1995. He pleaded not guilty and went to trial. According to prosecutor Rick Jordan, the evidence against Wood was incontrovertible: He had shot an unarmed man in the back.