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The Wall
New Stories of Drug War Injustice

Jonathan Magbie

Death sentence for smoking cannabis

President Reagan met with a young Jonathan Magbie in 1982

Twenty-seven-year-old Jonathan Magbie, completely paralyzed from the neck down since a car accident at age four, suffocated to death September 24, 2004 in a Washington, DC jail cell.

Magbie had been sentenced to 10 days in jail for simple marijuana possession, a first offense.
Columnist Colbert I. King has diligently followed this story for the Washington Post. According to King, Superior Court Judge Judith Retchin knew what she was doing when she sentenced Magbie. But why she decided to incarcerate a totally handicapped young man, unable to breathe reliably on his own, remains an unanswered question that court officials would just as soon see go away.

Magbie was sent to jail despite pleas from defense counsel, family members, jail administrators, and, amazingly, his own prosecutor. Numerous times during court proceedings, Charles Stimson, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the Magbie case, reminded the judge that Magbie was no threat, according to King.

During a confidential bench conference, Stimson cited Magbie's physical condition as a reason why the government did not want to take the case to trial or send him to jail. Three months before Retchin jailed Magbie, Stimson advised her that Magbie had medical needs that the jail couldn't accommodate. Magbie required a ventilator just to continue breathing at night, and the jail wasn't able to provide one. Judge Retchin was undoubtedly aware of this fact.

A physician familiar with the Superior Court wrote King, "Anyone at all familiar with the care of quadriplegics knows that sentencing Mr. Magbie to 10 days in jail was a probable death sentence."

It has been suggested that Judge Retchin jailed Magbie after he told court officials he wouldn't stop smoking pot. Magbie, according to the Washington Post - when asked by the court's pre-sentence investigators about his marijuana smoking - said he would continue using the drug because it made him feel better.

Apparently that honesty was too much for Judge Retchin, who heaved a sigh and ignored the pre-sentence report recommending probation - as well as the wishes of the prosecutor - and imposed a jail sentence on this terribly handicapped individual, presumably to teach him a lesson. And what is that lesson?

If you're dying to ask what lesson was taught the dead Magbie, inquiries to Judge Retchin may be telephoned to her office at the Washington, D.C. Courthouse, 202-879-1866.

Letters about this outrageous judicial misconduct can be addressed to:
Letters To the Editor
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street NW
Washington, DC 20071

Arthur Jackson: Sentenced to 35 years

My legal problems began in 1992 after being arrested by Texas police for distributing cocaine, charges that were subsequently dismissed by the State. The US Justice Department then re-filed the charges in federal court. I was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Arrested with a powdery mix of 75% cocaine and 25% benzocaine, I was wrongfully sentenced under the crack-possession guidelines. The well known, lopsided crack cocaine/powder cocaine-sentencing differences changed a five-year sentence to 30 years. I did not possess crack cocaine.

At sentencing, five more years was added on because a gun was found in the house where I was arrested. I did not use a gun, or have one, and I didn't live in the house. I was charged with "constructive possession of a firearm," meaning I could have possessed the gun.

To clear up confusion, the U.S. Supreme Court (In re Bailey) has ruled that a person must physically possess, employ, brandish, and "bring to bear" a gun in the commission of a felony in order to be charged with "possession." Though the elements of my case did not meet these strict criteria, the judge felt they did. I appealed this decision and the cocaine powder/crack judgment to the Circuit Court.

Due to tighter restrictions in the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Bill, I had to submit my appeal within one year to have it considered. Although my lawyer was paid, she never submitted my briefs on time, and more than a year had passed. I've learned in other cases that some appellate courts have waived the Anti-Terrorism Bill 'one-year time-bar.'

In February of 2000 I found a lump on my inner thigh, and immediately sought medical treatment. The University of Texas Medical Branch handles this for the federal correctional institution at Beaumont, Texas where I'm held. I went for treatment over thirty times from February 2000 through January 2003. At each of these appointments, no legitimate diagnosis was made, no medical treatment performed, and oftentimes treatment was refused.

By November 2002 the lump had grown to softball size and was extremely painful. Bureau of Prisons' medical staff, insisting that the tumor was a cyst, proceeded to lance, rupture, squeeze and cut the tumor out. Needless to say, the entire mass was not removed in this procedure, and quickly grew back to full size and very painful.

A prison official contacted my family and informed them the tumor was completely removed.

By January 2003 the tumor ruptured. Six hours after it broke open, I was admitted to the emergency room at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

The emergency room doctors told me that the best procedure would involve performing a pre-operative radiation treatment to shrink the size of the tumor (from softball to pea size), thus creating a barrier around the cancer cells. Such treatment would help prevent spread of the disease, making the operation less complicated and invasive.

The Bureau of Prisons (BoP) refused to authorize the recommended procedure, suggesting, instead, an alternative method that would demand a radical, invasive surgical procedure due to the tumor's massive size. This would entail removal and rearranging of major muscles in my upper leg and would more than likely render the leg permanently damaged.

At first I refused the BoP's alternative and was informed that no other procedures would be administered on my behalf. With this type of 'take it or leave it' pressure, and under extreme mental anguish, with no other alternatives, I consented to this invasive surgery.

The doctor who treated me at the emergency room told me that the BoP did not want the pre-operative radiation-treatment alternative due to its cost. But the BoP's chosen alternative was going to exceed the costs of the recommended procedure due to the need for post-surgical radiation treatments.

The alteration to my upper leg was significant and permanent. No physical therapy or after-care was provided. The pain in my leg is severe, and I live daily with complications.

After surgery, prison staff lost or destroyed the entire on-going criminal and civil litigation regarding this case, and my full time college correspondence course materials are also missing.

I have 'hit the wall' with my grievance application, and realize that I may be opening myself to repercussions from BoP staff for pursuing this administrative remedy. I hope the public appreciates my dilemma and need.

For more stories of Drug War Injustice, visit the WALL.

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