Elkhart drug offender granted Holcomb’s first sentence commutation

A convicted drug offender from northern Indiana will be released from prison about 1½ years early after Gov. Eric Holcomb commuted his sentence.

Holcomb announced the commutation of Berto N. Dooley’s 45-year sentence Wednesday. Dooley, 40, was convicted in Elkhart County of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, a Class A felony, and of being a habitual substance offender in 2003.

Online records from the Indiana Department of Correction show Dooley’s earliest scheduled release date is July 15, 2021, giving him less than two years left on the executed portion of his sentence. He committed the drug crimes when he was 24, the governor’s clemency order said, but since then “has actively and extensively undertaken efforts to better himself while incarcerated … .”

Those efforts have included earning a GED, an associate’s degree in biblical studies and a bachelor’s degree with honors in organizational management. Dooley has also become a mentor and tutor to other inmates pursuing a GED.

Dooley was transferred during his incarceration to the Short Term Offender Facility, where he has been permitted since May 2017 to work outside of custody at the Indiana Archives and Records Administration and the Department of Administration. He is currently housed in the South Bend Community Re-Entry Center.

The Indiana Parole Board recommended the commutation, which was also supported by “family, friends, and public officials who have witnessed the transformation of (Dooley) over the years,” Holcomb’s order states.

Thus, Dooley’s sentence was commuted with the suspension of the remainder of his executed sentence. He must serve six months of home detention, after which he will be released on parole.

However, if Dooley does not successfully complete home detention or violates his parole, he will be returned to the custody of the DOC to serve the balance of his term.

The grant of clemency to Dooley marks the first time Holcomb, a Republican, has commuted a sentence. But he has handed down seven pardons, most notably for Keith Cooper, another Elkhart man whom Holcomb said was wrongly convicted of a 1996 robbery.

Former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was also presented with Cooper’s pardon request, but the now-vice president did not act. Cooper has since filed a civil-rights lawsuit alleging Elkhart officials fabricated evidence to convict him.

Online records show Dooley was previously incarcerated for a 1998 misdemeanor resisting law enforcement conviction. He was released in 1999.

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