Coalitions seeks mercy for 15 women incarcerated in state prisons

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At 18 years old, Stacey Lannert was arrested and jailed. In 2009, after she served nearly two decades in prison, Gov. Matt Blunt commuted Lannert's life sentence after an "exhaustive review of the evidence" in which he determined that Lannert had suffered extensive abuse by her father, Thomas Lannert.

Stacey had shot and killed her father. She confessed to a police lieutenant, who later was instrumental in her release. ABC News covered her story for seven years after the crime, calling it a "long-running horror story" involving Stacey and her younger sister.

Now, Stacey is a third-year law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She spoke at a program Nov. 21 at St. Louis University School of Law on behalf of the Community Coalition for Clemency, formed in 2014 upon Catholic values of mercy and justice. The law professors, attorneys, law students, clergy, a former judge, a former governor and others are calling on Gov. Jay Nixon to commute the sentences of 15 women incarcerated in Missouri prisons. Most of the women, they say, were victims of years of domestic abuse and have served lengthy sentences.

"I am a recipient of mercy," said Lannert, who graduated in 2014 magna cum laude from Southeast Missouri State University with a bachelor's degree in psychology. "I have been reintroduced to my family, I have gotten to know my nieces, I have been to Disneyland twice and I like to think I give back to the community and that I make a difference," she said. "I am grateful every single day for this second chance."

The 15 women also hold the potential to do much good in the community, she said.

Seven of the women are over age 60, four over 65 and one is 74. John Ammann, a law professor at SLU, said the system failed the women, who aren't a threat to society. "We have faith in Gov. Nixon that he will see fit to see mercy in a season of mercy," Ammann said.

The inmates have served the community in prison through the Puppies for Parole program, by making blankets for disaster victims and by providing hats and scarves for homeless people in St. Louis, he said.

Jesuit Father Chris Collins, assistant to the president for mission and identity at St. Louis University, said Pope Francis' letter on the conclusion of the Year of Mercy asks people to reach out to those in need of mercy. God came into the human family in order to bring mercy to it, he explained. Jesus intervened in the case of a woman accused of adultery, Father Collins said, asking "who among us is not in need of mercy."

Msgr. Jack Schuler, director of mission integration at Catholic Charities of St. Louis, described mercy as a willingness to enter into the chaos of others' lives. "We invite the governor to walk through the door of mercy to be with these people who have suffered chaos of prison, not being with their families or seeing children growing up."

According to Marie Kenyon, director of the Peace and Justice Commission of the archdiocese, "We have a duty to speak up, to be the voice of people who can't." 

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