A new law in Tennessee that requires some violent offenders to serve 100 percent of their prison sentence wouldn’t have prevented the recent shooting that was live-streamed by 19-year-old Ezekiel Kelly, according to Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy.
Earlier this week, Kelly was arrested by police after he allegedly killed four people in a series of shootings, one of which was thought to have been live-streamed. Kelly was previously released from prison early after being sentenced to three years in 2021 for aggravated assault.
In the most recent Tennessee legislative session, a new law known as “Truth in Sentencing” was passed. It requires some criminals to serve their full prison sentence depending on the offense they committed. However, while speaking with Newsweek on Friday, Mulroy explained that Kelly, who was released from prison early, wouldn’t have been required to serve his full three-year prison sentence under the law. Mulroy said that while some violent offenders are required to serve 100 percent of their sentence under the new law, there is another classification of offenses that are required to serve 85 percent of their sentence instead.
“There are certain offenses under the new law where you’re required to serve 100 percent of the sentence, and then there’s another class of offenses which you are required, under the new law, you serve 85 percent, and aggravated assault, which is the relevant offense for which Mr. Kelly was convicted previously, is one of the 85 percent offenses,” Mulroy told Newsweek.
Mulroy continued, “and if you calculate it out and say [Kelly] was in fact given credit for the 14 months he spent in jail awaiting for trial, and if you calculate that plus the amount of time he spent in prison and you apply the 85 percent, he would have been out, barely in time to commit the crime.”
In addition to the shooting this week, Memphis also faced the death of Eliza Fletcher, prompting the arrest of a suspect identified as 38-year-old Cleotha Abston. Court records showed that Abston was also released early from prison in 2020 after being sentenced to 24 years in 2000 for aggravated kidnapping. Under this classification of offense, Abston would have remained in jail at the time of Fletcher’s killing if the Tennessee law was imposed earlier.
“This atrocious crime would have never happened, and Eliza Fletcher would not have become a victim if Tennessee had ‘Truth in Sentencing’ in 2000,” Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton told Newsweek earlier this week.
However, during his conversation with Newsweek, Mulroy noted that the exact day Kelly would have been released under the new law “is kind of beside the point, when we’re talking about such a tragedy.”
“I don’t know that it’s wise to make broad policy judgments based on a single incident,” Mulroy said. “I think the whole thing shows that we should be cautious about trying to make these broad policy changes.”
“What we know for sure is this was a senseless act of violence that deserves a strong response,” he added.
Despite the two recent violent crime incidents occurring in the same week, Mulroy said that he doesn’t think either represents the city of Memphis or Shelby County.
“I did not want to make any of the tragic events over the last week to be about ‘Truth in Sentencing,’” Mulroy said. “What we’ve seen over the last week is A: entirely unacceptable, but B: not representative of Memphis and Shelby County. These are outlier events—they’re extraordinary, tragic events. They deserve a strong response, but this is not at all typical of Memphis and Shelby County.”
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