Oklahoma inmate convicted on non-violent charge now freed following new law, commutation

A Tulsa man sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole is now free.

FOX23 spoke with Bill Dufries in prison six years ago. At the time, Dufries believed he would spend the rest of his life in prison.

Dufries was pulled over by a state trooper in 2002. Dufries was speeding, but the officer found 67 pounds of marijuana in his RV at the time.

“I was guilty, I was wrong,” said Dufries. “Back in 2002, I was diagnosed with cancer and I made a bad decision to raise money. I put marijuana in my RV and was driving through Oklahoma and got pulled over.”

Dufries was selling marijuana to pay his medical bills. However, he later learned that he was misdiagnosed. He never had cancer.

Because Dufries had two previous drug convictions, this arrest was his third strike. At the time of his arrest, he was given an automatic sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole.

“The rationale to give someone a life without sentence for a non-violent offense, I just can’t get grips with, it’s just wrong,” said Dufries.

When FOX23 spoke with Dufries in 2014, we found out that 52 non-violent Oklahoma inmates were serving life sentences without the chance of parole. “I’ve seen violent criminals get out, and I sit here with no hope of ever going home,” said Dufries.

Friends of Dufries started an online petition to raise awareness about his and other inmates facing this predicament. Soon after, Oklahoma legislators passed House Bill 1574. This legislation prohibited courts from giving an automatic life without parole sentence for a third felony.

The new law, coupled with commutation from the governor, led Dufries to freedom. He had served 15 years in prison. Those 15 years cost taxpayers more than $300,000. If Dufries had stayed in prison for the rest of his life, taxpayers would have paid more than $700,000.

“I think they realized that they couldn’t afford to keep putting people away and they decided to change the laws. I’m thankful, I’m glad to be a free man today,” said Dufries.

Since his release, Dufries has received his real estate license and is now working with Coldwell Banker. “I’d like to leave with the thought of enjoying the God-given day, because nothing is guaranteed in this world. And to be given the chance to move on and do something better, it’s just an honor and a privilege.”

As of 2021, there are only four non-violent inmates serving life in prison without the chance of parole.