March 28, 2004 - The Birmingham News (AL)

Marijuana Conviction Seals Life Behind Bars For Vietnam Veteran

By Carla Crowder, News staff writer

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Vietnam Veteran Douglas Lamar Gray had a roofing business in Moulton, a wife and a son. In 1989, he bought $900 worth of marijuana in a motel room and lost everything to prison.

Until then, the longest Gray had been locked up was a few months for a burglary in his teens, then two more burglaries in his early 20s. After the marijuana conviction, a Morgan County judge, working from Alabama's Habitual Felony Offender Law, sentenced Gray to life without parole for drug trafficking.

A police informant with a criminal record had lured Gray to the motel. Gray bought the marijuana, and drove away into a swarm of police cars. He ditched the pot before they arrested him. He thought he wouldn't be found guilty if the evidence was elsewhere, so he refused a plea bargain.

That no one was injured during his crimes doesn't matter. Gray, 49, will die behind bars.

Before the drug bust, he had not been arrested in 14 years.

"Made real good money, owned my own house, my own land," he said. "Watched my little boy grow up, then they set me up and sold me a pound of pot."

Morgan County District Attorney Bob Burrell, who was a prosecutor at the time, declined comment, and the judge who sentenced Gray is dead.

The case is so old no one from the DA's office or the clerk's office could find out how much marijuana was involved. Gray says it was a pound. The indictment indicates it had to be at least 2.2 pounds to qualify for a "trafficking" charge, which does not mean he sold any but that he had more than what is considered "personal use" by Alabama's marijuana laws, some of the country's strictest.

The state has spent $150,000 to keep Gray locked up. So far.

Gray lives in St. Clair prison's medical dorm because a train accident took his right leg years ago. He relies on wooden crutches to get around. The prosthetic leg made in the prison is too painful to wear.

Before he was in prison, a specialist fitted Gray with prosthetic legs so comfortable Gray could scramble across roofs.

In prison, he makes clocks and jewelry boxes to sell to prison employees.

"You've got to have some sort of hustle in here or you bleed your family dry. My grandmother's 87. She can't afford to send me much," he said.

Gray's latest heartache is his 16-year-old son. The boy's been getting into scrapes with the law. "He said he was going to get into trouble and come to prison so he could be with me," Gray said.

His son lives with his ex-wife, LaVonda Dalton. The couple stayed married the first five years of his incarceration. She took a job at Dairy Queen to support her family. Eventually, the strain of separation broke them, and they divorced.

She has remarried. But his imprisonment still upsets her.

"I think there's something wrong with the law when there's child abusers and killers out here, and he's locked up for the rest of his life for what he done," she said.

You can read more about Douglas Lamar Gray on THE WALL section of our web site.

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