The Justice Department declined to comment on the president’s decision on Wednesday. According to its website, Ms. Johnson did not have a pending application for clemency registered with the department; a previous application was denied.
Mr. Trump last week pardoned Dinesh D’Souza, a prominent conservative author and filmmaker convicted of campaign finance violations, and suggested that he might use his clemency power on behalf of former Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois and Martha Stewart, the lifestyle guru.
He has also pardoned four others whose cases were championed by conservatives or celebrities, including Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff known for his tough approach to immigration; I. Lewis Libby Jr., the chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney; Jack Johnson, the black boxing legend; and Kristian Saucier, a former Navy sailor.
Ms. Johnson had no fame or fortune, but her situation became a symbol for activists pushing for sentencing overhaul, an example of a system that in their view has taken punishment too far and disproportionately affected African-Americans like her. She was singled out by the A.C.L.U. as well as by Mic, a news website that seeks to “give voice to the underrepresented” and interviewed Ms. Johnson about her plight.
“It’s like an unexecuted sentence of death,” she told Mic about her life sentence. Her family, she added, “told me that coming to visit me in prison is like visiting a grave site.”
“They said that they could see the place where my body lay but they can never take me home again,” she said.
A single mother of five in Memphis, she struggled with gambling, unemployment, bankruptcy and foreclosure before becoming involved in a drug ring. She was arrested in 1993 as part of an operation that transported cocaine from Houston to Memphis, relaying coded messages between conspirators. She also purchased a house with a down payment that she structured with three separate money orders under the $10,000 reporting limit.