Update: Path to Freedom for Tyrone Brown

ByABC News
December 21, 2006, 2:13 PM

Dec. 21, 2006— -- A recent "20/20" story about a Texas man who has been imprisoned for the past 16 years because he violated his parole by using marijuana outraged an overwhelming number of viewers, who have sent daily e-mails of support to Tyrone Brown. And now, finally, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for Brown.

Keith Dean, the Dallas judge who issued the unusually harsh sentence, has written a formal letter to the Texas parole board asking them to free Brown.

Dean, who was voted out of office just days after "20/20" ran the story, wrote that he supported the district attorney's recommendation of release and agreed that "Mr. Brown has been rehabilitated and no longer poses a risk to others or himself."

The parole board is expected to determine Brown's eligibility for release this week and pass its recommendation on to Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Perry is the only one who can order Brown's freedom.

In November, "20/20" interviewed Brown in prison and contrasted his story with that of a more well-connected and privileged man whom Dean also sentenced.

Brown, who pleaded guilty to his first and only offense at age 17, was given probation after a $2 armed robbery in which the victim wasn't harmed and had his wallet returned. But months later, Brown violated his probation by testing positive for marijuana. In most cases of marijuana violations, Texas judges -- and Dean -- often recommend counseling and allow the defendant to remain on probation with a stiff warning.

In this case, however, without explanation, Brown was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Another man, convicted of murder for shooting a male prostitute in his backyard, was also given probation. But after numerous violations with a much more serious drug -- cocaine -- that man was never jailed. He was from a wealthy family and had political connections and a private attorney.