RICHMOND—Gov. Doug Wilder ordered Allen Iverson released from jail Thursday, freeing the All-American athlete eight months before he was scheduled to be paroled.
In what one Wilder aide called an "extraordinary" move, the governor granted conditional clemency to Iverson, a high school star convicted of three counts of mob violence. The order does not pardon Iverson but allows him to remain free on furlough until Aug. 23, 1994, the date his parole becomes effective.
Iverson's attorneys would not say what school Iverson plans to attend.
Iverson returned home Thursday afternoon, wearing a green and gold sweatsuit - the colors of Bethel High School, the school Iverson led to state championships in football and basketball as a junior. When Iverson walked through the door of his family's home in Hampton, someone inside shrieked, "Oh my goodness."
Iverson, 18, did not talk to the media, but released this statement through one of his attorneys: "I am extremely grateful that Governor Wilder has given me a chance to continue my education, and I intend to make every effort to ensure that I complete my education. I also thank all of my family and friends that supported me during the last few months."
Along with three other teen-agers, Iverson was convicted of mob violence charges stemming from a racially divided bowling-alley brawl that occurred around midnight Valentine's Day and sent three people to the hospital. Hampton Circuit Judge Nelson T. Overton found Iverson guilty of three felonies and sentenced him to five years.
Protesters called the punishment unduly harsh and alleged that racism prompted authorities to charge only black youths involved in the melee.
Joyce Hobson, a spokeswoman for SWIS, an organization that has pushed for the four teens' release, heard the news of Wilder's order while driving home Thursday. ``I heard it over the radio, and I screamed at the top of my lungs," Hobson said. "I was 15 minutes from home, and I screamed for 15 minutes. ''
She was so excited, Hobson said, that she had difficulty getting dressed for a news conference Thursday afternoon.
The Rev. Marcellus Harris, another SWIS member, welcomed the governor's order but said he wished it had been a full pardon instead. "I'm happy for him and his family that he will have the opportunity to get out and continue his education," Harris said of Iverson. "I think that the governor has acted wisely in that respect. I wish he had acted sooner."
Iverson has been in jail since being sentenced Sept. 8.
Hobson and Harris said they want Wilder to grant clemency as well for the other three teens, Michael Simmons, 19, Samuel Wynn Jr., 19, and Melvin Stephens Jr., 18. "Furlough one, furlough all," Harris said.
Simmons and Wynn are serving their sentences at the Hampton City Jail. Stephens, the only one to be convicted only of misdemeanors, was released on an appeal bond and has been attending school in Missouri.
Governor's aides said Wilder is reviewing clemency requests that he recently received for Simmons and Wynn.
Stephens' attorney, James Ellenson, said he did not make a request on Stephens' behalf because he's already free while his appeal works its way through the courts.
Colleen Killilea, an assistant commonwealth's attorney who prosecuted the four teens, called Wilder's order "surprising," particularly since it was issued before the appeals process had been exhausted.
"If he does it just for Iverson, I certainly will be more upset than if he does it for all four of them," she said. "Otherwise, I think he's sending the message that if you can play basketball, you will get clemency from this administration."
On Thursday night, Simmons and Wynn said they were happy for Iverson and expressed no resentment over what some people have called special treatment.