By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It is also true, as Pratt argues, that the application of the laws has resulted in more low-level drug offenders being sentenced to longer terms than kingpins. This happens because prosecutors, who are professionally motivated to ratchet up their conviction rates, cut deals with the all-knowing kingpins in exchange for information about their underlings, who are kept in the dark about the overall conspiracy and thus have little information to trade.
Pofahl's case is the perfect example of the trend. Pofahl served four years and two months in Germany before being released to the United States in 1994. When he got back to Texas, Strauss successfully recommended that Pofahl be sentenced to a term of five years' probation because he had been a helpful informant.
When it comes to advancing political causes, however, the ability to generate sympathy is essential. While few people would have sympathy for Pofahl, they could for Ralston--so long as the fatty details of her "story" were boiled down for public consumption. Ralston was well aware of this fact, according to a letter she wrote Pofahl in February 1999. (Although Pofahl had divorced Ralston in 1996, he agreed to sign whatever affidavits Ralston sent him in her effort to regain her freedom.) In the letter, an optimistic Ralston told Pofahl that her political appeal was quickly advancing.
"It looks like we are going to gain the assistance of the very people we need who are the key players in the political arena in Arkansas," Ralston wrote. "However, I don't want to get ahead of myself and jinx it either since I've had a real bad spate of luck when it comes to achieving justice. This is going to change, soon."
All she needed now was someone to tell her story. Glamour took the bait.
In August 1999, Glamour published a lengthy story about Ralston, sympathetically portraying her as a country girl who naively fell for a fabulously successful businessman who gave her ecstasy on their first date. In this version of events, Pofahl, the "creep," tantalized Ralston, the shy beauty, with fancy cars and a high-paying day job while he sold drugs behind her back. In the end, Ralston came off as a "blindly loyal wife" whose husband had sold her out to save himself. It made for great copy. In fact, the story was so convincing that former Arkansas Governor David Pryor says he was compelled to lobby personally on Ralston's behalf after reading it.
"I became incensed. At first I was bewildered. I couldn't believe this was happening in our country," says Pryor, who ironically was one of the many politicians who supported the harsh drug laws Congress enacted in the 1980s. "I just became obsessed with Amy's case. Ultimately I called up the Justice Department, the pardons people, and asked if it was permissible to come and make a case to them. They said yes."
In his lobbying effort, Pryor, a former U.S. senator, teamed with former Arkansas Governor and U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers, who hails from Ralston's hometown and is one of President Clinton's most ardent supporters. Together, they spent two hours arguing that Ralston's case should be forwarded to Clinton for a clemency review.
That effort was just the cake. Bumpers and Pryor put the icing on it in May, when Clinton returned to Little Rock and invited out his two old friends for a casual dinner. Pryor used the occasion to discreetly advance Ralston's cause.
"I handed him a file on Amy. Frankly, I don't know if he ever opened it," Pryor says. "We never discussed it after that."
Two months later, on July 7, 2000, the White House quietly and without elaboration announced that Clinton had commuted the sentences of Ralston and three other female inmates, all of whom were convicted of drug crimes and sentenced to longer prison terms than the men associated with their cases. According to a White House aide, Clinton felt the woman had been in prison long enough.
By sundown, Ralston was free.
"When you live a story like mine," Ralston says during an interview inside her parents' middle-class home in Charleston, "you expect that as soon as the movie starts, you know who the good guy is and who the bad guy is."
As Ralston sits inside the dining nook, her reflection captured in the polished surface of the table, it's still hard to imagine that hers is the face of a national enemy. With her long dirty-blond hair and sharp, lanky features, she still has the good looks of a cover girl, though her face is beginning to show signs of wear. Bright and friendly, Ralston easily opens up in conversation, and it's tempting to believe that she's been horribly wronged.
To this day, Ralston maintains that the story about why she wound up in prison boils down to betrayal.
"He got in trouble, and he turned to me for help. Then he turned on me to help himself," Ralston says of Pofahl. "When it came to be my turn [for getting help], there was nobody."
This is the same story Ralston told Glamour, and it was convincing enough to win the sympathy of the president of the United States. Evidently, Ralston has come to believe it herself.