John Knock has one last chance to save his life.
Mr. Knock is a geriatric, first-time offender who is currently incarcerated in Fairton, a federal correction facility in Fairfield, New Jersey. He has been locked up for twenty-four years, serving two life sentences without parole plus 20 years – exclusively for marijuana related crimes.
As bad as that sounds, his situation has lately gotten worse as the Covid-19 virus threatens to overrun our crowded prison system with its terrible swift sword.
At 72 years old, Knock is a chronic care patient trapped within an inadequate prison health care system. Diagnosed with cataracts, glaucoma, and hypothyroidism, he also suffers from sinus complications brought on by an untreated fractured cheekbone and he has circulatory problems that have led to a profound swelling of his left ankle.
Last week Attorney General William Barr ordered federal prisons to release aging inmates with health complications, but, so far, there is no sign that Prisoner No. 11150-017 will be included on that list.
Covid has Knock in its crosshairs, and he should be immediately released from jail.
Three weeks ago, through a motion filed by attorney David Holland, the executive director of Empire State NORML, Mr. Knock petitioned the federal District Court in the Northern District of Florida for immediate relief under the newly amended First Step Act.
Unshackled from the past failed policy of mandatory minimum sentencing, First Step provides an additional opportunity for compassionate release and re-sentencing after all other post-conviction and administrative remedies have failed. Knock’s legal options ran out a long time ago ,and if this final petition fails as well, First Step will be his final step.
After this, the only way John Knock is going to get out of prison is in a body bag.
And probably sooner than later.
Last October Knox first filed to reduce his sentence to time-served under the First Step provisions. The acting warden at Fairton, Jamal Jamison, took over two months to respond and ultimately denied his request.
Knock’s fate is now in the hands of a federal distric court in Florida. So far, a hearing has not been scheduled.
There is no question that John Knock was a big time pot smuggler. He was convicted of distributing almost 800,000 pounds of marijuana and over thirty tons of hash into multiple countries including the U.S. from 1984 to 1993.
No weapons, no violence, no victims, and no hard drugs.
A whole lot of weed.
In the mid-90s authorities chased him around the world for a few years and picked off his cohorts one-by-one until they finally caught up with Knox in Paris.
He was held in La Santé Prison for three years while France and U.S. negotiated his extradition. The French authorities only gave him up after the U.S. agreed to limit his sentence to a maximum of twenty years. By the time he left France many of his co-conspirators had already pled guilty and entered into cooperation agreements.
Others pled guilty but refused to cooperate, and they received sentencing as low as three years. John refused to cop a plea, exercised the 6th Amendment right and took his case to trial.
The jury found him guilty, and federal Judge Maurice Paul, now deceased, sentenced him under the mandatory minimum guidelines that no longer apply.
He lost his direct appeal to the 11th Circuit in 2003, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case. His post-conviction Habeas Corpus petition was denied in 2008, and President Obama rejected his application for clemency on his way out the door in 2017.
Knock’s current motion argues that his ‘”two life sentences without parole plus twenty years” were first driven by the inflexibility of the mandatory minimum guidelines and were continued as a “trial penalty” leveled by a vindictive government on an inmate who chose to assert his rights and made them go to court.
It is a compelling argument that is likely to fall on deaf ears.
Meanwhile Knock abides in New Jersey awaiting the encroaching pandemic.
On April 1st, 2020, April Fool’s Day, the Federal Bureau of Prisons confined all inmates to their cells for fourteen days, but social distancing is virtually impossible in prisons, and Covid-19 is not simply a health concern for John Knock.
It’s a death sentence.