PORTLAND (AP) – A Maine man who has served 14 years of a 20-year prison sentence for selling cocaine and heroin to a friend who was found dead the next day of a drug overdose has asked President Bush for clemency.

Supporters of Lance Persson say he’s the victim of inflexible federal sentencing guidelines that were adopted during the early years of the war on drugs. They note that during his time in prison, Persson, 38, has focused on self-improvement and helping others.

Persson, who now practices Buddhism, is completing his second college degree since his conviction and is working to become a licensed substance abuse counselor.

“Twenty years is just past ridiculous,” his mother, Ruth Persson of Kennebunk, told the Maine Sunday Telegram. “He is ready to get out. He’s proved himself.”

But the mother of Michael Corey, who died in 1994 at age 27, opposes a pardon or a shortened sentence for the man who sold drugs that helped kill her son.

“I think it’s wonderful he’s trying to improve himself and hopefully after 20 years, he will be a much better human being,” Angelina Corey said.

Persson had his first beer when he was 9 and was routinely using drugs by the time he was a teenager. He quit high school and began dealing drugs, landing in prison at age 19 for selling cocaine. He was later charged with aggravated assault for beating a man outside a bar in Arundel.

Although selling a small amount of drugs is rarely a federal crime, Persson became the first person in Maine to be charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office under a then-new law mandating stiff penalties for people who sell drugs to users who later die from them.

Because he had served time for selling cocaine and was free on bail on the aggravated assault charge, Persson likely would have been handed a life sentence. Instead, he accepted a plea deal and was given 20 years, the first 31/2 of which he spent at the notorious Lewisburg penitentiary in Pennsylvania.

Persson said he’s not optimistic that the president will issue an order allowing him to leave prison early, even though his petition has the support of Bush’s aunt, Nancy Bush Ellis, a summer resident of Kennebunkport.

Ellis attends a Methodist church in Cape Porpoise, which Persson had attended occasionally as a young boy. The congregation had become aware of Persson’s personal growth in prison and Ellis offered to intercede on his behalf after meeting him at Federal Medical Center Devens in Massachusetts, where he cared for seriously ill inmates.

If his petition is denied, Persson stands to be released a little less than three years from now because of good-time credits that would reduce his term to 17 years.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.