The governor commuted Shelby Arabie's sentence to 45 years, making him eligible for parole. Arabie, 50, has been in prison since he was 21.
"We reviewed Mr. Arabie's case, while keeping in mind our priority for public safety, and with all of the support and positive character references he has received, we decided that Mr. Arabie has demonstrated he's fit for commutation," the governor said in a prepared statement.
Arabie killed 29-year-old Bennie Posey, of Meridian, Miss., in September 1984 during a drug transaction that turned deadly on the North Street exit ramp of Interstate 110 in Baton Rouge.
In a narrative on his website, freeshelby.com, Arabie wrote that he "regrettably fired one shot" that killed Posey after the tables were turned during a marijuana sale and a chase ensued with gunshots exchanged on the interstate.
Arabie said Posey agreed to buy marijuana from him and then arranged for his younger brother and a friend to stage a robbery during the sale. He said he was abandoned on a secluded road and picked up by a passing motorist, who gave him a lift back to his car in Butte LaRose. Arabie caught up with Posey in Baton Rouge.
Four years after his incarceration, Arabie escaped from the State Police Barracks and made his way to the Florida Keys. He was recaptured a few months later.
From that point, Arabie improved his prison record.
He became a triple master in auto, truck and collision repair last year with advanced certifications in gasoline and diesel engines. He helped prison officials redesign the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola's re-entry program, which offers pre-release training to short-term prisoners. He assisted in launching a machine shop at Angola.
After Hurricane Katrina, he helped repair generators, air conditioners and electrical systems. He aided Amtrak in getting a locomotive running.
The state Pardon Board unanimously recommended commuting Arabie's life sentence in 2011. The recommendation went to the governor's desk, where it sat for a few years. The governor acts on few of the recommendations sent to him by the pardon board.
Lafayette resident Monica Scott helped organize a campaign to get the governor's attention through emails and postcards.
"We're all just like numb and in shock," Scott said Friday after the governor agreed to the sentence reduction.
The governor's spokesman, Sean Lansing, said the next step will be for Arabie to petition for prison release based on his new parole eligibility status.
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