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Family of Abbeville man set to be freed from life sentence for drug sale speaks out

Posted at 10:16 PM, Aug 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-09 22:09:24-04

"I'm not not saying my brother was perfect by any means. He made mistakes, he fell short, but did he deserve the rest of his life in prison because of something other
people get maybe a slap on the wrist for? I'd say we have a long way to go with the justice system," said Antoine Harris.

Prosecutors agreed earlier this week to release Derek Harris, who is serving a life sentence in Angola State Prison without parole over a $30 marijuana sale, according to his defense attorneys.

That decision came Thursday in a Vermilion Parish courtroom. Derek Harris will be freed after nine years in prison.

Derek Harris was convicted under Louisiana's Habitual Offender Law after selling less than a gram of marijuana to an undercover agent in 2008. Records show he had prior nonviolent convictions for theft and drug-related offenses.

His family is thankful for his release, but are advocating for others with similar convictions.

"We've held onto the faith that someday that things would be right," said Antoine Harris.

It's been nearly a decade since Antoine Harris has seen his little brother. Back in 2012, Derek Harris was sentenced to life in state prison without parole over a $30 marijuana sale. Although Antoine doesn't deny his brother's wrongdoing, he does believe he didn't have a fair sentencing.

"His attorney at the time was just silent. Never once appealed it or said 'I don't agree with it' or anything. He was virtually just quiet. His counsel was ineffective and the Supreme Court ruled that that he did have ineffective counsel," said Harris.

The Louisiana Supreme Court granted Harris a new hearing last month, and his legal team argued that his first attorney failed him by not challenging the sentence.

Upon Derek's release, he'll be moving to Kentucky to live with Antoine. Seeing his brother being released from prison is something Antoine never lost hope in.

"For him, he's still a little bit shocked about all of this," his brother said. "We've been working at this for a long time, trying to obtain his freedom and now finally it's here, so it's a bit overwhelming for him as well as us."

Right now, Derek Harris remains in Angola. His release date is pending.

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