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Weldon Angelos Is Free, Thanks to a Prosecutor, Not a President

The young father of three got 55 years for three small-time pot sales.

Angelos familyAngelos familyWeldon Angelos, the Utah record producer who received a mandatory minimum sentence of 55 years for three pot deals that totaled a pound and a half, was quietly freed last week, 35 years before his estimated release date. Angelos was not one of the 42 federal prisoners whose sentences President Obama commuted on Friday, although his clemency petition had attracted support from many prominent legal, political, and literary figures, including the judge who sentenced him. Instead he is a free man thanks to a federal prosecutor who apparently had second thoughts about his office's decision to punish Angelos for rejecting a plea deal by stacking charges in a way that threatened to keep him behind bars for the rest of his life.

"After three and half years of inaction on Weldon's clemency petition, he is free because of the fair and good action of a prosecutor," Mark W. Osler, Angelos' lawyer, told The Washington Post. "He returns to citizenship because of the actions of one individual—just not the individual I was expecting. Weldon's freedom is a wonderful thing but remains just one bright spot among many continuing tragedies."

The records related to Angelos' early release are sealed. But Cheri Sicard, president of the Marijuana Lifer Project, says Angelos told her his release was "based upon legal petitions he had filed for a reduction in sentence," which a judge granted because "the government simply offered no objections." That is consistent with Osler's comments and the impression of former federal judge Paul Cassell, who has been advocating clemency for Angelos since sentencing him in 2004. "My understanding is that the prosecutors have made an arrangement for Weldon Angelos to be released," Cassell told the Deseret News.

After Angelos sold eight ounces of marijuana to a government informant on each of three occasions, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Salt Lake City offered him a 15-year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. When he said no, prosecutors slammed him with a new indictment that included 20 counts carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of 105 years. A jury convicted him of 16 counts, including three gun charges that by themselves triggered a 55-year sentence.

Angelos allegedly carried a pistol during one of the pot sales and had guns nearby during the other two. Although he never brandished the weapons, let alone hurt anyone with them, prosecutors charged him with three counts of using a firearm in the course of a drug trafficking offense, a crime that carries a mandatory minimum of five years for the first offense and 25 years for subsequent offenses, sentences that must be served consecutively. Thus did Cassell find himself imposing a sentence that he called "unjust and cruel and even irrational." 

Angelos, a first-time offender who was 24 when he was sentenced, is now 36. His three children, a baby girl and two little boys when he went to prison, are now 13, 17, and 19. Based on time credits for good behavior, Angelos until last week was expected to be released on November 18, 2051, at the age of 72.

"I want to thank all the people who helped," Angelos told the Deseret News, "especially Judge Cassell." Without Cassell's efforts, he said, "I'd probably still be in prison." Cassell, now a law professor at the University of Utah, said "the Weldon Angelos case was one of the most troubling cases I handled when I was a federal judge, and so I'm glad to see that justice has finally been served here."

Cassell argues that cases like this one demonstrate the need for comprehensive sentencing reform. He has been especially critical of 18 USC 924(c), the gun provision under which he sentenced Angelos. Although the law was aimed at violent repeat offenders, he observes, the practice of stacking gun charges in a single case involving more than one incident "has produced a fearsome mandatory minimum statute that is not a true recidivist law." The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would reduce the enhanced mandatory minimum prescribed by 18 USC 924(c) from 25 years to 15 years and reserve it for defendants with prior convictions under that provision.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    That prosecutor's never going to be governor someday by being soft on crime!

  • Princess Trigger||

    I've heard stories around the campfire of prosecutors who weren't total douche bags.
    I just thought they were crazy myths.

  • Swiss Servator||

    I worked for one...needless to say, he lost a primary battle (to a woman who was the first State's Attorney in IL history to have her law license suspended while in office no less).

  • pan fried wylie||

    I thought HIllary was from AK not IL.

  • Jerryskids||

    Paul Cassell is still a horribly terrible and terribly horrible piece of poisonous shit not even fit for being turned into mulch. I would not dirty my woodchipper by shoving him into it.

  • ImanAzol||

    But the firearm charges DO serve a purpose. They get tallied as "gun crimes," which will go away when we ban guns.

  • Tionico||

    good point, and certainly part of the strategy in afflicting us with them/

    This guy's possession of the gun nad NO connection with the "crime" of selling the half pound bags.

  • Yeah Right||

    Something doesn't sound right here. He filed "legal petitions" that went unanswered so he got 40+ years shaved off his sentence?! Sounds like he gave the government a pretty good fish, huh?

  • Tionico||

    most legal papers have some sort of "time is of the essence" clause in them. If not responded to by the agency being petitioned before the deadline, whatever the petition is asking for is granted>

    Washington State's former Queen Christine was, before her stint on the throne, the state's Attorney General. A case, something involving CPS was working through the courts.... some motion was filed by the victim of the state's idiocy demanding some huge amount of money "for damages" afflicted by CPS. Being AtG, the last step of responsibility was CHristine's..... one of her underlings was to have done the filing, but needed input from Christine... who couldn't be bothered submitting it. The hammer dropped and the State was forced to pay out some HUGE settlement (the which they richly deserved to lose, the way they had handled the case). Christine was chastised for her failure to watch dog this deadline...... she managed to blame her underling, getting her fired. That appeased the public sufficiently they elected her, not once, but twice. Somehow her carelessness in minding the calendar got buried during her campaign. And the pepole of that state suffered the consequences by having to shell out of tax moneys stolen from them at gunpoint to satisfy the judgement.

  • Tionico||

    Yeah, its good this guy is out. but WHY was he railroaded in the first place? His ridiculous sentence was the direct result of a punitive power play by a corrupt prosecutor. THIS is behaviour that needs to end.

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