By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – A man serving life in prison for dealing crack cocaine is getting out thanks to President Obama. The inmate is Governor Deval Patrick’s cousin.

Patrick says he was surprised by the President’s order and had nothing to do with the decision.

By any measure, Reynolds Wintersmith, believed to be the nation’s only juvenile first-time offender serving life in prison for a non-violent drug crime, seems a good candidate for commutation.

As the President put it in a statement, if he’d been sentenced under current laws that give more even weight to crack and powder cocaine offenses, Wintersmith would already be a free man.

“I don’t know this cousin, or at least not well,” Patrick said Friday. “I didn’t know he was in the straits he was.”

Executive clemency is a touchy issue for Governor Patrick. Dating back to his support of a new trial for convicted rapist Ben Laguer, which became an issue in his 2006 run for governor, and the 2010 murder of Woburn Police officer Jack Maguire by a paroled lifer led to wholesale changes on the parole board by Patrick, making clemency all the more politically sensitive.

“I’m not feeling that political pressure,” Patrick said Friday.

But even though he’s never granted clemency to a convict, the governor says he’s not opposed in principle for doing what the president just did for his cousin.

“If there was a way to relieve the crowding in the prisons by commuting a class of those cases I’d be very interested in doing it,” said Patrick.

Gov. Patrick said he’d like to meet his cousin when he is released. “Probably at some point I will,” Patrick said.

That meeting may have to wait until next April, when Wintersmith’s newly-shortened sentence will expire. President Obama granted clemency just once during his first term and no convict has won clemency in Massachusetts since Gov. Mitt Romney took office in 2003.


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