April 10, 2020

Cancer patient serving 4 years for THC chocolates out of prison thanks to governor

  • Thomas J. Franzen

Harry Hitzeman

Harry Hitzeman

    Updated 4/1/2020 5:48 AM

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has commuted the four-year prison sentence of a cancer patient who had nearly 43 pounds of THC-infused chocolates delivered to his house in Montgomery.

Thomas J. Franzen, 37, was discharged from the minimum-security wing at the Stateville Correctional Center Monday afternoon and is staying with his father in Sugar Grove.

That night, they ate a dinner of New York strip steaks as Franzen tried to comprehend the last 24 hours.

“I prayed every night and day this day would come. I figured (the governor) was busy,” Franzen said in a phone interview. “It’s definitely surreal.”

Franzen, who has battled various forms of cancer since he was in high school, was arrested and charged with felony cannabis trafficking in February 2014 after having nearly 43 pounds of THC chocolates mailed to his house.

Franzen had a medical marijuana card at the time, but possessed significantly more than what was allowed and he ordered it from out of state, which was illegal. He faced a minimum of 12 years in prison to be served at 75% if convicted of the most severe charge.

Prosecutors argued Franzen was selling the drugs for profit, but Franzen contended the chocolates were needed to self medicate.

In June 2019, he pleaded guilty to a reduced felony marijuana charge and was sentenced to the minimum four years in prison that could be cut in half for good behavior.

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Defense attorney David Camic argued in October 2019 before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board that Franzen’s sentence should be commuted or Pritzker should issue a pardon.

In the past nine months, Franzen’s family said he was not getting the medical treatment he was promised, his health was declining and they feared he could die while awaiting Pritzker’s decision.

“The whole family is ecstatic. They think it saved his life,” Camic said. “It would be easy to look back and say this should have happened sooner. But everybody’s gratified that he’s out and getting better medical care.”

Lindsey Hess, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, said Franzen’s sentence was commuted Monday to time served and he was to complete two years of mandatory supervised release, or parole.

Hess said neither the department nor the state’s Prisoner Review Board comments on the reasons the governor grants or denies a request for executive clemency.

A message left with Pritzker’s spokesperson Tuesday was not immediately returned.

Franzen’s father, Michael, said he was grateful his son was home and called the four-year sentence “harsh from the beginning.”

“I was hopeful. I talked to him at least once a day on the phone. We weren’t going to give up,” the elder Franzen said. “I’m still concerned about his health.”

Thomas Franzen didn’t want to talk too much about his criminal case. He said his next steps were contacting his parole officer and calling his doctors for a CT scan.

Franzen said he was grateful for Pritzker’s decision and happy to be home, even more as the COVID-19 virus spread to the prison. He hopes he can return to work as a graphic designer for Whole Foods.

“It still really hasn’t hit me yet, to be honest,” he said. “It’s surreal at the moment.”

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