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January 29, 2006 - The Republican (MA)

Judge Says Sentences Are Proper

By Buffy Spencer

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

SPRINGFIELD - A federal prosecutor yesterday told U.S. District Court Judge Michael A. Ponsor that he and other members of the federal law enforcement community are frustrated with the number of times in the last year Ponsor has given sentences below federal sentencing guidelines.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd E. Newhouse told Ponsor he was making his comments with respect, but frustration, as he asked Ponsor to sentence Lee Henry, 38, of Springfield to 30 years to life for selling heroin and cocaine. Ponsor ultimately sentenced Henry to 12 years for those crimes, committed in 2003, and an additional four years for two other crimes.

Newhouse said that since a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year allowed judges more flexibility in sentencing in some cases, "downward departures and deviations in this courtroom have become the norm." He said that there is a reason to keep sentences relatively consistent for the same crimes and not deviate from sentencing guidelines.

Ponsor said he did not keep a "scorecard" of his sentencing decisions but disputed Newhouse's representation of his sentencing practices. Ponsor said he understood that lawyers might get frustrated with his sentences, but said, "I hit people hard. I hit people really hard."

He said a 10-year sentence is a life-altering sentence. Ponsor said before flexibility was allowed, "we got so used to throwing around 30- or 40-year sentences" that a 10-year sentence may sound low to some people. He said he hoped that although prosecutors may be frustrated, they "will accept my thanks for the hard work they do."

"I'm doing the best I can up here," Ponsor said, saying he has to balance many factors in sentencing.

Henry had been found guilty after a trial of two counts of cocaine distribution and one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin. Despite defense lawyer Linda J. Thompson's arguments, Ponsor determined that Henry's previous two drug convictions in Connecticut put him in the career offender category, which led to the guideline range of 30 years to life.

But he decided to depart from the guideline range, using reasons he said existed before the U.S. Supreme Court decision, including the defense contention that Henry had diminished capacity from a serious childhood trauma. Henry had pleaded guilty to the other two offenses, contempt of court and distribution of heroin. Newhouse said that within 48 hours of being released on bond after arraignment on the drug charges in the 2003 cases, Henry was found with 60 bags of heroin in his car.

Henry told Ponsor he had to return the heroin to the person who fronted it to him, because in the drug world you either have to give back the drugs or sell them and give the person money.

Ponsor told Henry that it puts the court in a terrible position when someone violates the conditions of release.

Newhouse said of Henry's explanation, "That's laughable, judge." He said Henry's action "screams for a lengthy sentence."

"The law enforcement community in general has to look very closely at what you do in the next 10 minutes," Newhouse said, in arguing for lengthy additions in prison time for the two other offenses. "The whole city is watching. Is he going to get three for one?" Newhouse said, saying sentences should not be concurrent with the 12-year sentence.

He said law enforcement personnel can't spend time and resources with cases such as Henry's contempt case if defendants are not sentenced harshly. He asked for 10 added years.

Ponsor then gave Henry a 14-year sentence on the heroin distribution, concurrent with the 12-year sentence, which adds two years to the 12-year sentence. He then added two additional years on the contempt. "It's a terribly heavy sentence," Ponsor said.

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