Hampton NAACP, Coalition of Concerned Clergy 757 supporting 2 men given conditional pardons by former Gov. Northam

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Posted at 10:30 AM, Jan 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-16 10:30:41-05

HAMPTON, Va. - The Hampton NAACP and the Coalition of Concerned Clergy 757 will kick off two weeks of giving, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, by supporting two men who were recently given conditional pardons by former Gov. Ralph Northam.

During their annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Service and Celebration, which will be held Monday, January 17 at the New Hope Baptist Church in Hampton, the organizations will gather food, clothing and funds for Lawrence Stephens and Darnell Nolen.

According to court records, a then 18-year-old Stephens and 17-year-old Nolen robbed two men in their home in York County in 2001. The victims were not killed or seriously injured, but Stephens and Nolen robbed them at gunpoint and bound them with tape to keep them from running away.

Stephens and Nolen also ransacked the victims’ home for money and drugs at the direction of Paul Michael Melendres, who worked with Stephens at a fast-food restaurant on the Peninsula.

Melendres, a white man, received 10 years for orchestrating the crime. However, Nolen was sentenced to 33 years in prison, and Judge Prentis Smiley sentenced Stephens to three life sentences plus 23 years.

Stephens and Nolen both served 20 years of their sentences before being released.

“I just want them to know that wholeheartedly, I'm sorry,” said Stephens about the victims during an interview with News 3. “I hope that someday they'll be able to forgive me in their hearts for what I did if they haven't already.”

"After 20 years in prison, both men entered prison as teenagers and walked as men with just a box of personal items," said Gaylene Kanoyton, the president of the Hampton branch of the NAACP. "They are in need of everything. Employment, housing, cars, clothing, food and more."

"It takes a village to help both men reenter into our community," said Dr. Tremayne Johnson, the president of the Coalition of Concerned Clergy 757. "Lawrence and Darnell stand ready to help the youth not to make the same choices that got them into prison. They are both committed to help other inmates who were unjustly over-sentenced get a pardon too."

The service will be held at 1 p.m. Monday. Stephens and Nolen will both be in attendance.