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JEFFERSON CITY, MO (KCTV) -
One inmate in the Missouri Department of Corrections system has a sentence unlike any other person behind bars.
Jeff Mizanskey is serving life without the chance of parole for a non-violent offense involving marijuana.
"I'm not here to discuss guilt or innocence, my main concern is why am I treated differently than anyone else?" Mizanskey said. "I believe it is an unfair sentence."
The 61-year-old Sedalia man is the only person in the state of Missouri serving the harshest punishment possible for marijuana.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the state of Missouri has some of the toughest drug laws in the country.
"Disbelief of being here," Mizanskey said. "I'm pretty much a loner out here."
Mizanskey said when he tells other inmates his sentence for marijuana, they don't believe him.
Since he has been incarcerated, around 20 states have legalized some form of marijuana use.
A recent Pew Center poll found 54 percent of Americans surveyed back the legalization of marijuana. Back in 1969, the poll found only 12 percent support.
The Missouri Secretary of State's office authorized 13 petition signature drives in January to be collected to possibly take the issue of marijuana to the voters.
KCTV5 investigative reporter Eric Chaloux obtained an exclusive interview with the former prosecutor, Jeff Mittelhauser, who helped put Mizanskey away after his 1993 arrest.
"I think about it, it's the harshest, most severe penalty that anyone has ever received for a drug crime in Pettis County," Mittelhauser said.
After nearly 20 years in prison, Mittelhauser has a shocking new view that the community would be safe if Mizanskey was released.
The prosecutor supports Mizanskey's clemency case, if he admits to the crime.
"I would support his request for clemency, if he would stop misinterpreting his criminal history, and his involvement in this offense," Mittelhauser said.
Mizanskey has exhausted his appeals and can only be freed if Gov. Jay Nixon grants his clemency petition.
In 1993, law enforcement watched a drug deal go down in a Sedalia motel room.
According to court papers, a trooper with the Missouri State Highway Patrol stopped a Mercury Cougar with out-of-state plates on Dec. 18. Bricks of marijuana were found in the trunk.
The men in the vehicle, none of whom were Mizanskey, reportedly told police they were going to a motel room in Sedalia.
During the police sting, Mizanskey was one of the people arrested. He was charged with possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver and distribute.
Since it was Mizanskey's third marijuana related arrested, the court could use the prior and persistent drug offender statues.
The judge could have given him 10-30 years. Instead, the judge choose the harshest sentence possible - life without parole.
"To come back and tell me it is life without, that floored me," Mizanskey said. "That was really devastating."
"All of the other convicted men involved were set free years ago, but my dad was given a virtual death sentence," Mizanskey's son, Chris Mizanskey, said in an online posting.
KCTV5 News made repeated attempts to contact the judge for comment.
Looking back on the case, Mittelhauser remembered he offered Mizanskey a deal to take life off the table, but the offer was rejected.
"Mr. Mizanskey had opportunities to avoid that, I had offered 20 years with the possibly of parole," Mittelhauser said.
Missouri's tough stance on marijuana related sentences stems from a law passed in 1989.
"If you were tough on drug-related crime, it became a popular issue, with the voters, constituents back home would agree with that legislation, that idea of lock them up and throw away the key," said Bob Johnson, a former state senator from Lee's Summit.
But now, Johnson feels that drug bill could not pass again.
"With the publicity around marijuana, that's certainly not the degree of crime, people thought it was back in 1989," Johnson said. "Today, no I don't think the penalties related to marijuana wouldn't be addressed the way they were."
Johnson feels the estimated nearly $20,000 a year the state spends to house some inmates could be better spend on drug treatment programs and rehabilitation programs.
"If a person's addicted to something, I think citizens would be how do we get them over their addiction, right back into society producing goods and services and not put them in a cell somewhere," Johnson said.
"I could have been out there working all along taking care of my kids, grandkids and a taxpayer," Jeff Mizanskey said. "I believed in work, yeah I smoked a little pot."
While Jeff Mizanskey waits to hear on a clemency petition, he hopes the changing world outside of prison, will mean a chance at a different kind of life out-side of prison.
"I never figured a guy would get a life sentence for marijuana, let alone life without," he said. "I thought life without was for violent crimes, people who really needed to be in prison."
An online petition has generated hundreds of thousands of signatures that will be delivered to Nixon's office on Monday.
Nixon has granted clemency on one occasion.
In January 2011, he commuted the death sentence of Richard Clay to life without parole.
"We won't have a comment on the clemency petition of Jeff Mizanskey at this time," Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said.
If you'd like to see the petition to urge the governor to grant clemency, click here.
Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
Wednesday, August 20 2014 1:35 PM EDT2014-08-20 17:35:47 GMT
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Thursday, August 21 2014 5:49 AM EDT2014-08-21 09:49:04 GMT
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