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.