Obama commutes prison sentence for New Orleans native serving life

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - "I will never forget the day I awoke and the DEA had kicked my door in at the home I lived in for over 26 years," Barbara Mae Bernard recalled in a 2011 blog. "I had never experienced such a traumatic and embarrassing moment. It was as devastating as I later discovered Hurricane Katrina to be 13 years later."

Barbara Mae Bernard of New Orleans has missed every Christmas in her hometown since 1993. That's the year her youngest daughter, Danielle Metz, was sentenced to life in prison for her role in a drug trafficking conspiracy. Every year, Barbara Mae Bernard spends her Christmas in Dublin, California, where Danielle Metz is in federal prison.

Danielle Metz Danielle Metz' daughter was 3 years old when the life sentence came down.  Her son was 7. Danielle Metz was a first-time offender, according to her daughter's clemency petition on change.org, a petition that was signed more than 60,000 times.

This year, Barbara Mae Bernard won't make the trip to California. President Obama on Tuesday commuted prison sentences for 111 people, 35 of whom were serving life. After more than two decades of trying, Danielle Metz' name was on that list. She'll be released from prison Dec. 28.

Obama commuted the prison sentences of 325 people during the month of August. He has granted clemency to 673 people since he took office.

"We must remember that these are individuals -- sons, daughters, parents, and in many cases, grandparents -- who have taken steps toward rehabilitation and who have earned their second chance," White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said.  "They are individuals who received unduly harsh sentences under outdated laws for committing largely nonviolent drug crimes, for example, the 35 individuals whose life sentences were commuted today."

Danielle Metz was 18 when she married 30-year-old drug kingpin Glenn Metz. She has said from the get-go that he was an abusive husband, and although she knew he was dealing drugs, she said she didn't know the extent of his illicit dealings.

Prosecutors, however, said Danielle Metz played a key role in a widespread cocaine ring in and around New Orleans, a drug ring responsible for the deaths of three people.

Harsh federal drug sentencing guidelines are the reason why Metz has spent the past 23 years in prison. Those sentencing guidelines have been loosened over the past several years, and Obama has encouraged legislation that will reform the prison sentencing system.