Sharlene Wilson soon will be free! Wilson, who was a victim of
Arkansas’ corrupt criminal justice system, which existed during the
tenure of Governor Bill Clinton, is about to be released from prison.
In fact, it was Wilson who once told an Arkansas grand jury that she saw
the man, who is now our president, get so high on cocaine that he fell
into a garbage can. Last Thursday, the state’s parole board voted to
release Wilson who, eight years ago was arrested and prosecuted by her
former boyfriend, Dan Harmon, on two counts of delivery of a controlled
substance. The decision by the parole board was made public today.
In 1993, Sharlene was sentenced to 31 years on this relatively minor
first-time drug offense, which was extremely harsh when compared to the
11 year sentence Harmon later received for running his Seventh Judicial
District prosecuting attorney’s office as a criminal enterprise. In
1997, a jury found him guilty on five counts of racketeering, extortion
and drug dealing.
The state’s clemency review board had recommended Wilson be freed two
years earlier, but Gov. Mike Huckabee, who had worked hard to clean up
the state and was up for re-election in 1998, declined. However, in
November, when Wilson’s case came up for review again, Huckabee decided
to reduce her sentence, making her eligible for parole, after more than
two years of public pressure.
Sharlene, who once had been a madam to the Arkansas drug mob, was
attempting to turn her life around at the time of her arrest. She was
working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and also had given
damaging information on Harmon to Jean Duffey, who, in 1990, was
appointed to head a task force to investigate narcotics trafficking in
Wilson’s release is another vindication for Duffey, who was the
victim of a Harmon smear campaign, orchestrated against her when he
realized that he was in danger of being exposed. After eight months on
the job, Duffey was fired. In 1991, when Harmon was elevated from
Saline County Prosecutor to prosecutor over the Seventh Judicial
District, Duffey had to flee the state to avoid turning over her files
and having more than 30 of her confidential witnesses exposed. Duffey
has worked as hard to free Wilson, whom she called her best informant,
as she did to help put Harmon behind bars.
Sharlene says that Harmon promised her that, if she ever crossed him,
he would put her away “where no one would find her.” He almost
succeeded. Shortly after Sharlene gave her testimony to that grand jury
in U.S. District Count in Little Rock in December of 1990, Harmon
persuaded Sharlene’s friend, Joann Potts, to “roll over” on Sharlene to
avoid prosecution. Potts was sent on repeated trips to Sharlene’s house
where she cried about troubles with her husband and begged for drugs.
When Sharlene finally succumbed, Harmon staged a raid on Sharlene’s
home, where less than $100 worth of methamphetamine and marijuana were
found, and made the arrest in person.
Had it not been for the film, “Obstruction of Justice,” about the
cover-up of the 1987 murders of teenagers Kevin Ives and Don Henry, who
are believed to have stumbled on a drug drop out of Mena, Ark.,
Sharlene’s case likely never would have become a cause celebre.
Sharlene was a material witness in that crime and the film’s producer,
Pat Matrisciana found her and featured her interview from prison.
Ironically, an Arkansas jury recently found Matrisciana guilty of libel
in connection with that film. The case is on appeal.
Eight years is a long time to be locked away from society and from
those you love. On the outside, Sharlene’s children grew into
adulthood. Her father died and three years ago, her daughter gave birth
to her first grandchild. On the inside, Sharlene became a Christian.
She has been a model prisoner. She leads Bible studies and conducts a
letter writing ministry, which she named “Glory Land.”
On Friday, when I conducted a telephone interview with Sharlene from
prison on my Los Angeles radio show, she did not know the decision of
the parole board, but she was hopeful. She said that, if she were to be
released from prison, one of the first things she wanted to do was to
hold her grandchild. She also wants some time just to sit by her
father’s grave. “I need closure on that,” she told me.
Sharlene said she would continue her letter writing ministry to those
on the outside and to those she leaves behind in prison. She has
acquired a lot of computer skills and hopes to use those in an office
job, while working toward a degree to become a drug counselor, but
added, “If I have to, I’ll flip hamburgers.”
When I reminded her that she might be safer if she remains in prison,
since most of the witnesses to the “boys on the tracks” murders now are
six feet under, Sharlene seemed unconcerned. She quoted Isaiah 54:17,
“No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.” Sharlene has
absolutely no fear of what awaits her on the outside. “If it is the
Lord’s will, I’ll just get to heaven a little sooner than you will.
The wheels of justice grind slowly, even more slowly, it seems, when
one waiting for release from prison can see light at the end of the
tunnel. It would be wonderful if Sharlene could be home for Christmas,
or even her birthday on Dec. 27, but that is unlikely.
Today, the order will be sent to local authorities to prepare for her
release. The parole office must inspect her new home and approve it
before she can be set free and, because of the holidays, that could take
a few weeks. However, miracles do happen, and Sharlene would be the
first to remind us, “God’s timing is perfect.”