PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Several people crowded the steps of Portsmouth City Hall Saturday afternoon demanding Governor Northam to use his power to release Ronald Davis from prison.
“Accountability in sentencing should be fair,” said Andre Leaphart, a community leader in Portsmouth. “Ronald does deserve clemency. He should not serve the same length or longer prison sentence as someone who committed rape, aggravated assault, manslaughter or murder.”
As News 3 explained in an exclusive report last year, Davis had documented mental health issues when he participated in a string of armed robberies across several Hampton Roads cities in 1997. He was an 18-year-old high school senior when he pleaded guilty to his crimes. No one was killed or injured. Judges across Hampton Roads sentenced him to a combined 80 years in prison.
“I just want him to have a chance,” said Joan Davis, Ronald Davis’ mother. “I think he’s done enough time.”
Davis has served 23 years of his sentence. He said he believes his crimes deserved prison time, but he believes 80 years was excessive.
“I deserve a punishment. Robbery is a serious crime deserving a serious punishment, but to have my whole life taken away from me as an 18-year-old child [is excessive],” said Davis. “I don't` deserve this.”
Davis’ push for a pardon from Governor Northam has gained the support of a former Newport News prosecutor whose efforts helped put Davis in prison.
“The facts really don't justify the amount of time that he got,” said Richmond-based attorney Matt Danielson. “It was really a product of the sentencing guidelines and the mandatory minimums for firearms that the court`s hands are kind of tied.”
“Granted, [it was] a dangerous act of stupidity, someone could have gotten hurt, but nonetheless an act of stupidity by someone who had just turned 18. Are you the same person today that you were 22 years ago? I'm not,” said Danielson. “What do the citizens of the Commonwealth get out of this man being incarcerated a single day longer? The answer is pretty clear. Nothing.”
Davis is also receiving support from state lawmakers, including state Senators Lionel Spruill and Joseph Morrissey, and state Delegate Sam Rasoul.
Because Davis was sentenced after parole was abolished in Virginia, his only avenue for early release is through a conditional pardon granted by the governor.
Davis’ attorney, Jon Shapiro of Washington and Lee University, filed the conditional pardon petition in May 2019. Secretary of the Commonwealth, Kelly Thomasson, confirmed Davis' pardon petition is under review, but it can take a year or longer to complete the process.
Davis' family and friends are gathering signatures for a petition to get Governor Northam's attention.