Who is Sharlene Wilson, and why is she rotting away in an Arkansas prison even though the state’s clemency review board recommended nearly three months ago she be freed after serving more than five years for a petty, first-time drug conviction?
During the mid-1980s, Sharlene Wilson was what you might call a mistress to the Arkansas mob. She regretfully admits that she bedded down with many in the Dixie Mafia as well as Bill Clinton’s half-brother, Roger. For several months, she says, she even unloaded bags of cocaine at the Mena Airport in the mountains of Eastern Arkansas.
“If there was anybody who knew the business inside out — where the aircraft made their drops at night, who picked up the deliveries, who laundered the money, who ordered the hits — it was Sharlene Wilson,” writes Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in his new book, “The Secret Life of Bill Clinton.” “She was a dangerous woman. What’s more, she had gone spiritual. She was trying to rectify her life, hoping to regain custody of her lost son. She posed a threat to the whole organization.”
Even more threatening to organized crime in Arkansas was the fact that Sharlene was a material witness in what has become known as “the boys on the tracks” case. That’s the incident in which teen-agers Kevin Ives and Don Henry apparently stumbled into a drug drop on Aug. 22, 1987, in a secluded area of Saline County, Arkansas. Their battered bodies were later dumped on some nearby railroad tracks. Arkansas law enforcement authorities have gone to unusual lengths to cover up the truth of what took place that night.
But Sharlene’s legal troubles really began Dec. 10, 1990, when she walked into the U.S. District Court in Little Rock and testified under oath to an astonished grand jury that she provided cocaine to Gov. Bill Clinton.
Within weeks her life had been turned upside-down. According to Evans-Pritchard, she sought out the help of federal narcotics investigator Jean Duffey.
“She was terrified,” Duffey is quoted as saying. “She said her house was being watched and she’d made a big mistake. That was when she told me she’d testified about seeing Bill Clinton get so high on cocaine he fell into a garbage can. … I have no doubt she was telling the truth.”
Within days, Dan Harmon became prosecuting attorney for the Seventh Judicial District and immediately summoned a county grand jury, issuing subpoenas for all of Duffey’s drug task force records. Her files included incriminating details on Harmon’s own activities as well as the names of confidential informants who would have been exposed. Duffey refused to comply.
Harmon then issued a felony warrant for Duffey. A judge friendly to Harmon’s crusade announced that once Duffey was arrested she would be held without bail. Duffey got a message from police that she would never get out of jail alive and that there was a $50,000 price on her head. She went into hiding. Duffey had been effectively neutralized.
Harmon had to be more careful, however, with Sharlene Wilson because she had become an undercover informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. There was also the sticky matter of his former relationship with her.
“His opportunity came when a close friend of Sharlene’s, Joann Potts, was arrested and agreed to ‘roll over’ to avoid prosecution,” Evans-Pritchard recounts. “Potts was sent on repeated visits to Sharlene’s house to arrange a drug deal. Sharlene succumbed. She gave Potts a joint of marijuana, then made the fatal mistake of fetching her some methamphetamine. “
Sharlene was arrested by Harmon, himself — a man she had slept with in her old mob moll days.
“He yelled, ‘Bitch, I told you that if you ever breathed a word about me I’d take you down. You’re going to prison, bitch,’” Sharlene recalled Harmon saying.
Guess who then prosecuted the case? That’s right. Dan Harmon — who, of course, conveniently forgot to disclose his former relationship with the defendant. But he wasn’t without a heart. He offered her a plea bargain of 116 years. Sharlene decided to reject such the generous offer and take her chances at trial. She was convicted and sentenced to 31 years.
Part of Sharlene’s conviction was later thrown out in a unanimous ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. Then, on Sept. 15 of this year the clemency review board found her sentence “excessive” and “unjust” and recommended it be reduced to time served.
Nevertheless, she’s still in jail. Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican “reformer,” is sitting on his hands. Maybe he doesn’t get it — maybe he does. But every day Sharlene Wilson spends in prison is another day her life is in jeopardy and the truth of what she knows is in danger of going to the grave with her.
If Huckabee really wants to clean up the corruption he inherited in his state, his first action ought to be to free Sharlene Wilson and offer her all the protection she needs to tell her story to the world — once and for all.
Editor’s Note: I seldom ask readers to take any action based on one of my columns. But this case is different. If you agree with me that Sharlene Wilson needs to be released today, please call Gov. Mike Huckabee’s office and let him know. The governor’s number is 501-682-2345. And feel free to let him know where you learned about the facts of this case.