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June 26, 2005 - The Oklahoman (OK)

Ex-Prosecutors Criticize Sentencing In Utah Case

By Robert Boczkiewicz

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DENVER -- Nine former U.S. attorneys in Oklahoma this week criticized a prison sentence imposed under controversial federal laws that mandate minimum prison terms.

They are among 163 former federal judges, attorneys general and prosecutors across the nation who submitted a "friend of the court" brief to the U.S. appeals court in Denver.

While in office, those officials were sworn to uphold the laws used to impose the sentence they now challenge.

The brief argues that a 55-year mandatory sentence imposed on a 24-year-old first-time offender in Utah is so "grossly disproportionate" to the crime that the sentence is unconstitutional because it is "cruel and unusual."

Weldon Angelos, a rap producer who turned down a 16-year plea bargain, was convicted of carrying a gun under his clothing while selling several hundred dollars worth of marijuana on two occasions and for owning several other guns.

It was the gun circumstances, added to the drug selling, that triggered the mandatory prison term.

The judge in Salt Lake City who imposed the sentence described it as "cruel, unjust and irrational," but said his hands were tied by the "mandatory minimum" laws.

Prosecutor Robert Lunt said Angelos has been suspected of drug trafficking and money laundering for years and got what he deserved.

The mandatory minimum laws are controversial because they do not allow judges to consider mitigating circumstances.

By contrast, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said earlier last week that some judges are imposing light sentences on too many criminals.

The former U.S. attorneys in Oklahoma who are opposing the mandatory minimum in the Utah case are:

  • Layn Phillips, U.S. attorney in Tulsa from 1983 to 1987, who was a federal judge in Oklahoma City from 1987 to 1991.
  • William Price of the western judicial district, based in Oklahoma City, from 1982 to 1989.
  • Stephen Lewis of the northern district, based in Tulsa, from 1993 to 2000.
  • John Raley of the eastern district, based in Muskogee, from 1990 to 1997.
  • William Burkett of the western district, from 1969 to 1975.
  • Roger Hilfiger of the eastern district, from 1985 to 1990.
  • John Imel of the northern district, from 1961 to 1967.
  • Larry Patton of the western district, from 1978 to 1981.
  • Tony Graham of the northern district, from 1987 to 1993.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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