Pubdate: Wed, 10 Feb 2016
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Post Company
Author: Sari Horwitz


Now a Professor, He Writes to Obama About Mandatory 55-Year Term

A former federal judge in Utah asked President Obama on Tuesday to 
"swiftly" give clemency to Weldon Angelos, a man he sentenced to 55 
years in prison in connection with selling marijuana.

Calling the sentence "one of the most troubling that I ever faced in 
my five years on the federal bench," Paul G. Cassell, now a professor 
at the University of Utah's law school, said the mandatory minimum 
sentence he was required to impose on Angelos was one of the chief 
reasons he chose to step down as a judge.

"I write you as the judge who sentenced Weldon Angelos to a 55-year 
mandatory minimum prison term for non-violent drug offenses," Cassell 
wrote to Obama. "It appears to me that Mr. Angelos meets all of the 
criteria for a commuted sentence." Cassell was appointed to the bench 
in 2002 by President George W. Bush.

In December, Obama granted clemency to 95 drug offenders as part of 
his continuing effort to give relief to drug offenders who were 
harshly sentenced in the nation's war on drugs. But Angelos, who is 
behind bars at the Federal Correctional Institution at Mendota, in 
central California, was not on the president's list.

The president has commuted the sentences of 184 federal inmates, more 
individuals than the past five presidents combined. But 
sentencing-reform advocates say that hundreds - and potentially 
thousands - of inmates who meet the Obama administration's criteria 
for clemency, including Angelos, are still behind bars.

When asked about Angelos, White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said 
the administration does not comment on pending cases.

"The president expects to continue to issue commutations throughout 
the remainder of his time in office," Hoffine said. "But clemency is 
just one of the tools the administration is using to address the vast 
inequities in the criminal justice system. We will also continue to 
work toward comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system in Congress."

Angelos, the son of a Greek immigrant and a 36-year-old father of 
three, is one of the nation's most famous nonviolent drug offenders 
and a symbol of the severe mandatory sentences. His case has been 
widely championed, including by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), former FBI 
director William S. Sessions, the group Families Against Mandatory 
Minimum sand conservative billionaire Charles Koch.

"Judge Cassell's letter articulates well the grave injustice involved 
in Weldon's prison sentence," said Mark Holden, general counsel and 
senior vice president of Koch Industries, who has urged attention to 
the Angelos case.

Like many inmates, Angelos has missed being with his children as they 
grew up. His 18-year-old son, Anthony, was 6 when Angelos was sent to 
prison. His son, Jesse, was 4. His 13-year-old daughter, Meranda, was 
an infant. In an interview, Angelos said he had hoped the president 
would grant him clemency in time for him to see Anthony graduate from 
high school in June.

Angelos was sentenced to 55 years without the possibility of parole 
after he sold marijuana to a police informant three times in 2002, 
each time charging $350. Prosecutors alleged that Angelos, the 
founder of Utah hip-hop label Extravagant, was a gang member and a 
drug dealer. Angelos denied the allegations and declined a plea 
bargain offered by prosecutors.

Angelos never used or pulled a gun, but the informant later testified 
in court that he saw one in Angelos's car during the first buy. He 
said that during the second buy, Angelos was wearing an ankle holster 
holding a firearm. Officers later searched his home and found a gun.

The sentence Angelos received as a nonviolent first-time offender 
fell under a law called 924(c). Federal drug laws require 
five-to30-year mandatory minimum sentences for possessing, 
brandishing or discharging a gun during a drug-trafficking crime. For 
each subsequent gun conviction, there is a mandatory sentence of 25 
years that must be served consecutively. This is often referred to as 
"gun stacking," which is why Angelos received 55 years without parole.

He received five years for the gun in the car; 25 years for the 
second gun charge, having one in an ankle strap; and another 25 years 
for a third firearms charge, the gun police found in his home. He got 
one day for the marijuana.

In 2004, when Cassell sentenced Angelos, he wrote a lengthy opinion, 
comparing Angelos's sentence (738 months) with the guideline 
sentences for the kingpin of three major drugtrafficking rings that 
caused three deaths (465 months), a three-time aircraft hijacker (405 
months), a second-degree murderer of three victims (235 months) and 
the rapist of three 10-year-olds (188 months).

Cassell's letter to Obama is not the first time that he has sought a 
presidential pardon for Angelos. He called his sentence "unjust, 
cruel and even irrational" in a letter to Bush, asking him to give 
Angelos clemency.

"Now that Mr. Angelos has served more than twelve years in prison," 
Cassell wrote to Obama, "I once again want to call on [the president] 
to commute his sentence."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom