Donald Trump closed out his presidency with of a flurry of clemency action that included commuting the drug-offense prison sentence of a Minnesota woman and granting a full pardon to a Twin Cities man convicted of a drug crime in 1992, the White House announced Wednesday.
Cassandra A. Kasowski, 46, of Moorhead, has been in the federal prison in Waseca, Minn., since 2014 for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and had a projected release date of August 2026.
Kasowski "has been an exemplary inmate," noted the White House announcement. "Her warden recommended her for home confinement."
Her case was among 14 nationwide represented without cost by the University of Minnesota Law School's Clemency Project that Trump ruled on favorably with a commutation. Nine of them either are or were doing time in Waseca, and one served time in the federal prison for men in Sandstone, Minn.
Kasowski's son was scheduled to pick her up Wednesday, said JaneAnne Murray, a U law professor who headed a project that advocated for Kasowski and many others in the Waseca prison.
"He now lives in Fargo, and she will be living with him," Murray said. "It's all a bit overwhelming for them."
The Law School said in a statement that Kasowski has "an excellent release plan with her son, who is a manager of a chain of restaurants and can give his mother a job as soon as she is released."
Kasowski is one of several Waseca inmates who have gone to court seeking release in connection with a substantial outbreak of the coronavirus among the prison population. She tested positive for COVID19 in September, according to a declaration she submitted in the case.
The 14 clients represent by the Law School were considered to be low-level participants in nonviolent drug distribution cases, the school explained. They each received long sentences "that would be significantly lower today as a result of changes" in federal law, the statement continued. Kasowski's case involved the transportation of mass quantities of methamphetamine from Texas that were distributed in the Fargo-Moorhead area, federal prosecutors said.
Kasowski and four others among the 14 were awaiting release from Waseca prison, and all were looking at many more years of incarceration. Two others were on home confinement after serving time in Waseca and two are former Waseca inmates, the Law School said.
"All of these clients were serving excessive sentences that devastated their lives and the lives of their families," Murray said.
Pardon recipient John H. Wall, 63, of Prior Lake, was convicted in U.S. District Court after pleading guilty in 1992 to aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Wall completed a five-year prison sentence.
A full pardon gives a defendant back the status held before conviction. Any rights that were lost are reinstated. However, the records of the conviction are not erased.
Wall was indicted in January 1992 on the drug count as well as another felony, using a firearm during a drug-trafficking crime. The weapons count was dismissed as part of his pleading guilty.
Wall's "acceptance of responsibility" was noted in court before Judge Robert Renner handed down the sentence in June 1992, according to court records.
Wall could not be reached for comment, but his brother, Patrick, was unaware of the pardon until contacted by the Star Tribune.
"I'm glad he got it," said Patrick Wall, who grew up with John and a sister in Jordan. "He has turned his life around 100 percent since he's been out. ... He's paid his dues. He did every last day of his sentence."
Patrick Wall said he is especially grateful for his brother taking in their father, Irving, for five years until he died in 2017 at age 93.
Wall is married and works in New Prague as a specialty machinist for Chart Industrie, which makes engineered equipment for the industrial gas, energy and biomedical industries.
Trump's full pardon of Wall was supported by former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the federal Office of the Pardon Attorney, the White House said in its announcement.
The announcement also listed among Wall's advocates for a pardon Andrew Luger, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota. Luger said Wednesday that couldn't recall Wall's case, but it may have been forwarded for consideration among many during his time as U.S. attorney from 2014 to 2017.
Star Tribune staff writer Randy Furst and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482