(One of the featured speakers at the Shadow Convention was Karen Garrison, mother of mandatory minimum prisoners Lamont and Lawrence Garrison. The following article about their case was provided by Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Visit FAMM online at http://www.famm.org for further information or call (202) 822-6700.)
Best friends as well as brothers, the Garrison twins did everything together. Lamont and Lawrence had lived all their lives in the same house, in the same Northeast Washington, DC neighborhood. The twins grew up without a father but not without strong role models and guidance, according to their mother, Karen Garrison.
It wasn't hard to find drug dealers around their way. But Lawrence and Lamont had a goal: in junior high school, they decided to become attorneys. The Garrison twins immersed themselves in school and worked to further their dreams, eventually becoming students at Howard University. They worked part-time for five years to pay their tuition, and both were excellent students looking forward to their careers in law.
But on April 8, 1998, three days after their 25th birthday, a month before graduating Howard, their lives changed forever. Federal agents busted into the Garrison's home, arrested Lamont and Lawrence, and took them into custody, where they later learned that were accused of taking part in a multi-million-dollar drug conspiracy.
Lawrence and Lamont say they knew only one person involved in the case: Tito Abea, a mechanic they had hired to repair their uncle's car. According to Lawrence and Lamont, their only contact with Abea had to do with his business; they were having extensive work done on their uncle's car and Abea botched the job then refused to fix it. The twins argued heatedly with Abea and called the shop at all hours of the day and night trying to get Abea to agree to repair the car. The twin's mother and uncle called the shop repeatedly too, to no avail.
What Lawrence and Lamont didn't know was that Tito Abea was a major player in a large, 20-person powder and crack cocaine operation. In order to get a reduction from the hefty prison term he was facing, Abea implicated others in the conspiracy. Two of the people he implicated were the Garrison twins. Abea testified that he supplied the Garrisons with 1-2 kilos of cocaine every week for 10 weeks in 1996, and then again in 1997. Soon, other conspirators were following Abea's lead and testifying that they had seen some of these transactions take place.
There were no drugs, drug paraphernalia, or other evidence of drugs found on the Garrisons or in their home. There was never any record of them selling drugs, other than the testimonies from the known and now-convicted drug dealers in the conspiracy. And there was no proof that, like the other defendants, Lawrence and Lamont "derived money and other benefits" from two years of drug dealing. In fact, both brothers were living in their mother's house and had thousands of dollars in college loan bills to pay off: Lamont's bill alone was $40,000.
Sure of their innocence, the Garrisons went to trial. They did not have enough money to hire one lawyer, let alone two, so they both ended up with court appointed attorneys who failed to gather key information that the family feels would have disproved the government's only other evidence against the brothers: phone records. The government says the brothers couldn't have been merely calling Abea about the car because they called too frequently and at strange hours.
Tito Abea gained tremendously from implicating Lawrence and Lamont: he only got three years in prison, even though he was the ringleader of the cocaine operation. Lawrence Garrison received 15 years in federal prison. Lamont Garrison was given 19 years, four years more than his brother, for "failure to accept responsibility" when he testified in court that he and his brother were innocent.
The Garrisons' friends, family and teachers were all shocked when "the twins" were not acquitted of charges. A family friend who has known the brothers for years wrote to their judge, "They would not have risked all they had worked so hard for, or their futures, on some immediate and temporary gratification. These boys are not that type and were not raised that way."
Please visit http://www.drcnet.org/justice/ to write Congress in opposition to mandatory minimum sentences. DRCNet will post further information on how to help the Garrison twins when it becomes available.