By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
Larry Langford, former Birmingham mayor and Jefferson County Commissioner, arrived in Birmingham Saturday around 7:30 p.m. after being released from a Kentucky prison.
The terminally ill Langford was freed after a federal judge agreed to reduce Langford’s 15-year bribery sentence to time served. Langford has already served more than half his sentence.
Langford arrived at Princeton Baptist Medical Center after an exhausting six-hour ride in an ambulance that was led by a police escort.
At the hospital his wife, Melva, asked for prayers for the former mayor.
“The most important thing is I wanted him home,” she said. “I prayed for that, [for Langford] to be with the family for as long as God wants him to be here. That’s all that we can ask for. I feel so much better that he is here locally because that way we won’t have to rush to get a flight when we can’t get a flight, or drive. It’s just much better on the family.”
Langford’s release came at the request of the acting director of the federal Bureau of Prisons who said in a court filing that Langford’s medical condition constitutes “extraordinary and compelling reasons” to reduce his sentence.
The former mayor, who said in 2013, that he was dying, had suffered from a history of illnesses that included end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema, pulmonary hypertension, right heart failure, sickle-cell trait and anemia.
His release came after a week of letters, text messages, phone calls and emails to federal officials asking that Langford be allowed to return home.
U.S. District Court Judge Scott Coogler signed an order Friday reducing Langford’s prison sentence. According to court documents, Langford was to be released from custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons as soon as his medical condition permitted.
“As I have said before, justice should be fair, but merciful,” said state Rep. Terri Sewell, who was at the hospital Saturday night along with Langford family members and supporters such as
attorney Tiffany Johnson Cole and state Rep. Juandalynn Givan, also an attorney. “I am deeply grateful to all those who heeded our renewed call for the immediate compassionate release of Mayor Larry Langford,” said Sewell in a statement.
Langford had been housed at a federal prison medical center in Kentucky. The former mayor is being released in the care of hospice, his attorneys said.
Langford supporters and public officials, including Sewell and local activists such as Frank Matthews, had urged the prison system to free Langford so he could spend his final days with family.
Family members said in a statement released by Langford’s attorneys that they are grateful for the outpouring of support.
“Mr. Langford has reached a point medically where there is nothing more that can be done for him in the facility. … We are all grateful that the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Justice saw fit to exercise compassion and allow him to return home with his family,” a statement from attorneys said.
Langford was convicted in 2009 of taking $235,000 in bribes while on the Jefferson County Commission in exchange for steering county sewer bond business to an investment banker. Prosecutors said during the trial that Langford accepted luxury suits, watches and cash.
Before the sentence reduction and releases was granted, he had an estimated release date of 2023
Sewell said, “I want to thank the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Jay Town, Senator Doug Jones, our federal partners, and all those who worked side-by-side with our office despite the government shutdown to secure Mayor Langford’s release.
“The holiday season is a reminder of the importance of family, and the commutation of Mayor Langford’s sentence means that our former Mayor can spend his final days at home in Alabama with loved ones. My prayers are with the whole Langford family as they reunite and provide comfort to Mayor Langford in the days and weeks ahead.”
Langford grew up in Loveman Village public housing in Titusville and served a two-year term on the Birmingham City Council in the late 1970s. He had been one of the first black personalities on Birmingham television as a reporter for WBRC-TV in the early 1970s.
He served as a Birmingham City Councilor from 1977 to 1979 and as a four-time elected mayor of Fairfield from 1988 to 2002. He was elected to the Jefferson County Commission in 2002 where he served as president from 2002-2006.
In 2007, after losing the county commission presidency to Bettye Fine Collins, he ran for mayor of Birmingham.
In a field of 10 candidates that included incumbent mayor Bernard Kincaid, Langford won the election without a runoff capturing 50.1 percent of the vote. He served as mayor from 2007-2009.
In 2009, Langford was convicted of 60 counts of bribery, money laundering and other charges. The jury found he accepted about $236,000 in bribes to steer business to Montgomery investment banker Bill Blount. He was handed a 15-year term in a federal prison.
In prison, his health deteriorated and he was issued an oxygen concentrator and nebulizer and needed the use of a wheelchair to get around. According to the prison bureau, he often became fatigued with strenuous exertion and was assigned an inmate companion to assist with movement and in the line where pills were dispensed.
Associated Press contributed to this post.