Pubdate: Wed, 17 Nov 2004
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2004 The New York Times Company
Author: Nick Madigan
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


SALT LAKE CITY, Nov. 16 - In a case that has spurred intense soul-searching 
in legal circles, a 25-year-old convicted drug dealer, who was arrested two 
years ago for selling small bags of marijuana to a police informant, was 
sentenced on Tuesday to 55 years in prison.

The judge who sentenced him, Paul G. Cassell of the United States District 
Court here, said that he pronounced the sentence "reluctantly" but that his 
hands were tied by a mandatory-minimum law that required the imposition of 
55 years on Weldon H. Angelos because he had a gun during at least two of 
the drug transactions.

"I have no choice," Judge Cassell said to Mr. Angelos, who seemed frozen in 
place as the extent of the sentence became apparent.

The judge then urged Mr. Angelos's lawyer, Jerome H. Mooney, not only to 
appeal his decision but to ask President Bush for clemency once all appeals 
were exhausted. He also urged Congress to set aside the law that made the 
sentence mandatory.

Judge Cassell said that sentencing Mr. Angelos to prison until he is 70 
years old was "unjust, cruel and even irrational," but that the law that 
forced him to do so had not proved to be unconstitutional and thus had to 
stand. The sentence was all the more ironic, he said, because only two 
hours earlier he had been legally able to impose a sentence of 22 years on 
a man convicted of aggravated second-degree murder for beating an elderly 
woman to death with a log. That crime, he argued, was far more serious.

Mr. Angelos's wife, Zandrah, who sat in court with the couple's two boys, 
aged 5 and 7, began crying. "He might as well have killed someone," she 
said bitterly, wiping her eyes, referring to her husband. "He should have 
done worse than he did if he was going to get 55 years."

The question of Mr. Angelos's sentence was at the center of a debate as to 
whether it was fair to send a minor drug dealer to prison for 55 years when 
a murderer, rapist or terrorist, according to the same sentencing 
directives, would ordinarily receive no more than about 25 years.

During a court hearing in September, Judge Cassell posed a question to the 
opposing legal teams in the case: "Is there a rational basis," he asked, 
"for giving Mr. Angelos more time than the hijacker, the murderer, the rapist?"

The sentence against Mr. Angelos, the founder of the rap music label 
Extravagant Records, stemmed from his conviction on three counts of 
possession of a firearm while engaged in drug trafficking. The first count 
carried a mandatory five-year sentence, with each subsequent count calling 
for 25 years.

According to trial testimony, Mr. Angelos was carrying a pistol in an ankle 
holster while selling marijuana. He was not accused of brandishing the 
weapon or threatening anyone with it.

But in court on Tuesday, Robert Lund, an assistant United States attorney 
who prosecuted the case, called Mr. Angelos a "purveyor of poison," and 
said he had been dealing drugs for more than four years before his arrest. 
Carrying a gun in the commission of such crimes, he said, meant that Mr. 
Angelos was prepared "to kill other human beings." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake