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Fate undecided: Clemency board asks for more time on inmate’s release

Inmate Michael Edwards and his family did not receive the response they had hoped for from the Florida clemency board on Wednesday.

Edwards was sentenced to a total of 60 years in prison almost 27 years ago. He was 30 years old, and his crime was for selling less than half of an ounce of cocaine to an ex-girlfriend who set him up.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who sits on the clemency board, says he needs more time to decide if Edwards should go free.

Edwards’ family was disappointed to find out their loved one was not coming home. They were hopeful Wednesday morning that maybe this time, the clemency board would allow them to take Edwards home, even packing clothes for him just in case.

“I had a nice dress shirt,” said Mimi Edwards-Beach, Edwards’ sister. “It was just a Columbia fishing shirt and a pair of shoes.”

The Florida Commission on Offender Review investigates each case that applies for clemency and submits a comprehensive report to the clemency board. That report also has a recommendation. Michael Edwards has a 20-page report, which was submitted months ago, before the pandemic hit and canceled his hearing. The report recommended his release to the clemency board.

DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody harped on the fact that Edwards had some disciplinary reports when he first was incarcerated. Last summer, Edwards was found with a cell phone.

“I’m going to have to go back and look a little more over some of the other offenses,” DeSantis said during the hearing in Tallahassee. “So we’ll take it under advisement.”

Under advisement is better than a “no” for Edwards and his family. His sister spoke with WINK News as she made the long drive home to Cape Coral from Tallahassee.

She and other family members say Michael has changed his life and became a model prisoner since he was sent to prison almost 30 years ago with two 30-year sentences. Last year’s “slip-up” was the first one Michael had since 1999.

“To us, it seemed like it shouldn’t matter because Michael’s already served 27 years in prison,” said Edwards-Beach. “Will you please have mercy on him and let us bring him home?”

When he heard the news from his prison cell that he would not go free, Michael wrote to his sister through the prison e-mail. “Hi sis,” he sent her. “I hope you and mom are handling this OK. I’m so sorry you all are having to suffer through all of this.”

But Edwards-Beach and her family are staying strong for themselves and for Michael.

Edwards’ family said they will likely get a letter with the decision in the next few weeks.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat on the clemency board, called Florida’s clemency system “broken, restrictive, arbitrary and designed to fail our citizens.”
In a statement, she called out DeSantis for only granting 30 Floridians clemency since becoming governor.

“We all have to be encouraging for him,” Edwards-Beach said. “I’m going to start crying, but we have to all make him think that it’s going to happen, and just we had a little bit of a setback.”

Reporter:Dannielle Garcia
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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