Leonard Singleton, a 51-year-old man from Virginia, was released on Wednesday after 23 years behind bars.
Singleton was convicted for a string of robberies in 1995 and given two life sentences plus 110 years in prison. In January, former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe granted him a conditional pardon.
It was a tearful moment for Leonard Singleton and his wife Vandy Singleton, whose maiden name is Vandy Hill. They were high school classmates. “It’s been a long time coming,” Hill told News 3. Despite having a happy marriage, the couple has never actually lived together.
Hill and Singleton got engaged in high school, and later went to different colleges. Hill searched for Singleton after graduating from college. When she finally found him after 28 years of searching, Singleton was in prison. The two married at Nottoway Correctional Center in August 2015, where Singleton was serving his time.
Singleton committed eight grab-and-dash robberies in the summer of 1995, mostly without a weapon. In just one case, he carried a butter knife from his kitchen. But that classified him as a violent offender.
The Virginia Parole Board recommended a conditional pardon for Singleton in November 2016 and it was granted by McAuliffe, who was then governor. In the order (pdf) to pardon Singleton, the former governor cited his service in the Navy as one of the reasons for releasing him. “Mr. Singleton had served honorably in the Navy and was otherwise an upstanding citizen before drug addiction problems led him to a path of criminal activity,” it said.
Singleton was a high school star athlete, college graduate, and navy sailor. But his life was totally ruined by drug addiction. Court records show he committed the robberies while high on drugs and alcohol. He did it to feed his crack addiction. “When I was arrested, when the detective caught me, I thanked him,” Singleton told News 3, “I told him now I can get my life together, and I admitted everything I did.”
Virginia’s sentencing guidelines suggested 40 to 50 years for Singleton’s crimes. However, the judge ordered Singleton to serve two life sentences and an additional 110 years. The worst part is that Virginia had abolished parole one year before Singleton’s robberies. Meanwhile, his appeals were denied year after year.
The only apparent option left was to seek a pardon from the governor, but it didn’t go smoothly. Hill called many lawyers and all of them discouraged her from continuing.
“Lawyers telling me pretty much if a lawyer takes your money, they are just taking your money because he is never getting out,” she said.
Fortunately, a lawyer named John Coggeshall helped get Singleton out.