© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Former Judge Urges Obama To Commute Sentence He Imposed A Decade Ago

In a letter to president Obama, a former federal judge is asking that a sentence he handed down in 2004 be commuted.

"In looking back on the case, it was one of the most troubling that I ever faced in my five years on the federal bench," Paul G. Cassell wrote on Tuesday.

Because of prison terms mandated by law, Cassell sentenced Weldon Angelos to 55 years in prison.

As the court documents describe, Angelos was a first-time offender when he was convicted of dealing marijuana at 24-years-old. But his case was complicated by the fact that Angelos carried a gun to two drug deals and then a third offense was added when police executed a search warrant and found more guns at Angelos' home.

Because of the weapons charges and because of the mandatory minimums crafted by the law, Cassell was forced to issue the 55-year-sentence.

At the time, Cassell, who was nominated to the federal bench by George W. Bush in 2001, complained that the sentence was "unjust, cruel and even irrational."

"The 55–year sentence substantially exceeds what the jury recommended to the court," Cassell wrote in his sentencing memorandum. "It is also far in excess of the sentence imposed for such serious crimes as aircraft hijacking, second degree murder, espionage, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and rape. It exceeds what recidivist criminals will likely serve under the federal 'three strikes' provision."

In his letter to Obama, Cassell said that this sentence was hard to defend when it was imposed, but that he is glad that Obama and his Justice Department have started reviewing these unfair sentences.

As we've been reporting, President Obama has commuted the sentences of about 200 men and women who were convicted of committing nonviolent offenses under what the administration has called "unjust — and now outdated — drug crime sentencing rules."

Back in 2004, Cassell called for the commutation of Angelos' sentence. Now, as a professor of law at the University of Utah, who stepped down from the federal bench, he's calling for it again.

He explains:

As for Angelos, his two kids, who were five and seven when he was sentenced, are now teenagers and he is asking President Obama to commute his sentence.

Generation Opportunity, which advocates for criminal justice reform, recently spoke to his sister and his sons:

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.