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story.lead_photo.caption Billy Welch, 66

A Dallas County jury in 1996 took five minutes to find a man guilty on drug charges and only 30 minutes to order him to serve two life sentences in prison, but on Thursday the governor announced that he would commute the 66-year-old's punishment.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced on Thursday his intent to grant 14 pardons and a single commutation, which would end Billy Edward Welch's incarceration at the Maximum Security Unit in Tucker. Welch would go from serving a life sentence in the state Department of Correction to being immediately eligible for parole.

J.R. Davis, a spokesman for the governor's office, said Hutchinson decided to grant the commutation because Welch had been in prison for more than 20 consecutive years for a nonviolent offense.

“The governor also puts a great deal of weight on recommendations from the Parole Board,” Davis said. “In this case, the recommendation was unanimous.”

Chelsea O'Kelley, another spokesperson for the office, said law enforcement officials didn't object to the application.

Over 20 years ago, Welch was sentenced as a habitual offender on charges of possession of crystal meth with intent to deliver, possession of a firearm by certain persons, simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Two deputies arrested Welch on July 28, 1995 in western Dallas County. Authorities found $4,000 worth of crystal methamphetamine in his vehicle and a loaded gun.

At the time, the 44-year-old Welch became the third Grant County resident within a year to receive a long prison sentence for drug trafficking.

Circuit Judge John Graves of Camden sentenced Welch to the life terms for possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and simultaneous possession of a firearm; 10 years for possession of drug paraphernalia, which included needles and scales; and six years for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Kelley said the commutation will be issued 30 days after the announcement.

"Right now it's just a recommendation," she said.


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  • MaxCady
    December 6, 2018 at 5:07 p.m.

    Victim of the war on drugs.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    December 6, 2018 at 5:26 p.m.

    May God bless the heart that beats.
    Where a prison is built, so too must ye enter.
    Let us hope a way is made for the sinner, the downtrodden, the emotionally tortured.

  • GeneralMac
    December 6, 2018 at 5:32 p.m.

    "victim" of the war on drugs?

    Evidently MAXCADY didn't read about the times he was a FELON in possession of a gun while dealing meth.

  • dunk7474
    December 6, 2018 at 5:51 p.m.

    Privatemackie: Twenty years is not enough??? Get a life and close the closet door.

  • Castle
    December 6, 2018 at 6:06 p.m.

    He has paid his debt to society. Two life sentences for the offences listed is excessive IMO. I think Gov Hutchison is doing the right thing here.

    December 6, 2018 at 7:55 p.m.

    Way Way too much time for a Non Violent Crime, The Governor is Correct Here.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    December 6, 2018 at 8:41 p.m.

    Dealing meth is a dangerous job General. Who got them all hooked on meth in the first place?

  • MaxCady
    December 6, 2018 at 8:47 p.m.

    General, believe it or not $4K worth of meth is not a lot, maybe a couple of ounces. I think he's paid his debt to society. If he did meth now his heart would explode.

  • LRDawg
    December 6, 2018 at 10:05 p.m.

    Surely he's not the ONLY one incarcerated too long for a non-violent offense....going by that standard i've read plenty of other stories where people of color are locked away for even longer sentences. Take another look governor and treat all criminals the same

  • FayFan
    December 7, 2018 at 12:06 a.m.

    There are many people incarcerated by the state of Arkansas for non-violent drug related crimes. Most are extremely over-punished. There is a campaign underway right now to change the laws and to give relief to these people, many of whom were charged with possession of substances like marijuana, in small amounts. For more information, google "Larry's Campaign" to learn more about how Fayetteville-based attorney Larry Froelich is trying to help these folks. He has an amazing list of over-punished inmates serving outrageous sentences. The war on drugs has failed and this kind of sentencing must end. The prisons are full of these folks. We are paying unbelievably huge sums of tax dollars to keep them caged up rather than rehabilitating them and allowing them to return to productive lives. This cannot go on.