Justin French slipped off to prison last week — sentenced to 16 years for his elaborate tax-fraud scheme. But it wasn't the first time. In September 1994, French was incarcerated for his involvement in a drugs-for-guns deal in Northern Virginia. He was out in less than two years and moved to Richmond to live with his grandparents.
But before he was sent to prison, he had a notable supporter who wrote a letter to the court on his behalf: the late Mills E. Godwin Jr., the former two-term Virginia governor. Turns out Godwin was a long-time family friend, and grew up with Justin's grandfather, E. L. Hazelwood Sr., in Nansemond County, which later became Suffolk.
An excerpt from Godwin's letter, dated July 27, 1994:
I first met the defendant early last year when he was trying to get into law school after having graduated with honors and a grade point average of 3.45 from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. I talked with him at length and was convinced that he had the background and wanted the challenge of going to law school and I wrote to several law schools on his behalf. I believe he was accepted at the Law Schools of both George Mason University [French spent year at Mason before his arrest] and the University of Richmond. ...
It is my own conviction that after he complies with the Court's judgment in the pending case that he will thereafter complete his education and be a model citizen and once again make his family and friends proud of him. I write to you without any personal knowledge whatever of the facts of the case except those related to me by his family, but, of course, I am aware of his guilty plea. I truly believe he will make the most of the circumstances that face him and that we can feel he will be a good citizen from now on and stay out of all trouble. ...
I send to you my warmest best wishes.
Mills E. Godwin Jr.