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Special Report: Convicted Murderer Serving Life without Parole Hopes for Clemency

Shirley Danner, 61, has spent a lifetime trying to get out of the mess she created, but it's a long road to redemption, and there are never any guarantees.
LITTLE ROCK, AR -- Everyone makes mistakes, but sometimes those mistakes can have a devastating effect and change our lives for good.

Shirley Danner, 61, has spent a lifetime trying to get out of the mess she created, but it's a long road to redemption, and there are never any guarantees.

"In one moment everything changed, who I was got washed away," Danner says.

Danner leads "The Prodigal Daughters," a choir that sings from a place most people never go. They put a lot of pride and time into their songs, because with each passing minute they are reminded that they are in prison.

Danner has served nearly 40 years of a life without parole sentence for admittedly shooting a man in the back of the head..

"And that's something I've had to live with, I've got to live with for the rest of my life," she says.

According to West Memphis newspaper articles from 1975, Danner, who was a prostitute, and another woman were charged with killing T.G. Poeteete, one of their clients. She would eventually plead guilty to a life sentence, even though her attorney told her she'd go free after seven years.

Danner says as the years passed by and she remained in prison, she felt sad.

"At some point I went numb, especially after six years, and I was thinking I was going to get out and I didn't," Danner says.

She says the hardest part of being locked up is not being able to raise her three children, who are now adults with children of their own.

"When I came in I was angry and I tried to beat the system. Nobody could tell me anything," she says.

But through the years, Danner adjusted to life behind bars, mainly through her strong religious beliefs, and today she's a trusted inmate.

"This place saved my life. It taught me different things. I have a good job, I work for the warden," Danner says.

But her desire to be set free came early on, as she has asked for clemency 21 times since 1976, only to be ignored or rejected each time.

Her most recent request was approved by the clemency board this past January, and she's hoping Governor Mike Beebe has a change of heart.

She says, "I don't think I got too many more years to live, but the little time that I do have, I hope and pray that he does grant clemency so I can spend some time with my grandchildren."

As the clock winds down, Shirley and the Prodigal Daughters keep singing, hoping through thier songs of remdemption that their spirits will go free from behind these bars and barbed wire.

The request for clemency is now on Governor Beebe's desk, where he could either accept, reject it or take no action at all. Beebe has a history of not granting clemency to violent offenders.

To see the full interview with Shirley, click here.
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