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February 10, 2016

Paul Cassell, the former federal judge who sentenced Weldon Angelos to 55 years, writes directly to Prez Obama to support his clemency petition

As reported in this Washington Post article, headlined "Former federal judge to President Obama: Free the man I sentenced to 55 years in prison," former US District Judge (and now Prof) Paul Cassell has now written directly to the President to urge him to "swiftly commute his sentence." Regular readers likely know a lot about the story of Weldon Angelos, whom I once helped represent as he pursued collateral appeals, and the Post article provides some of the details and context behind his current push for clemency:

Calling the sentence “one of the most troubling that I ever faced in my five years on the federal bench,” Paul G. Cassell, now a professor at the University of Utah’s law school, said the mandatory minimum sentence he was required to impose on Angelos was one of the chief reasons he chose to step down as a judge.

“I write you as the judge who sentenced Weldon Angelos to a 55-year mandatory minimum prison term for non-violent drug offenses,” Cassell wrote to Obama. “It appears to me that Mr. Angelos meets all of the criteria for a commuted sentence.” Cassell was appointed to the bench in 2002 by former President George W. Bush.

In December, Obama granted clemency to 95 drug offenders as part of his continuing effort to give relief to drug offenders who were harshly sentenced in the nation’s war on drugs. But Angelos, who is behind bars at the Federal Correctional Institution at Mendota, was not on the president’s list. The president has commuted the sentences of 184 federal inmates, more individuals than the past five presidents combined. But sentencing reform advocates say that hundreds — and potentially thousands — of inmates who meet the Obama administration’s criteria for clemency, including Angelos, are still behind bars....

Angelos, the son of a Greek immigrant and the 36-year-old father of three, is one of the nation’s most famous nonviolent drug offenders and a symbol of the severe mandatory sentences. His case has been widely championed, including by Utah’s Republican Sen. Mike Lee, former FBI Director Bill Sessions, the group Families Against Mandatory Minimums and conservative billionaire Charles Koch. “Judge Cassell’s letter articulates well the grave injustice involved in Weldon’s prison sentence,” said Mark Holden, general counsel and senior vice president of Koch Industries,” who has urged attention to the Angelos case.

Like many inmates, Angelos has missed being with his children as they grew up. His 18-year-old son, Anthony, was six when he was sent to prison. His son, Jesse, was 4. His 13-year-old daughter, Meranda, was an infant. In an interview, Angelos said he had hoped the president would grant him clemency in time for him to see Anthony graduate from high school in June.

Angelos was sentenced to 55 years without the possibility of parole after he sold marijuana to a police informant three times in 2002, each time charging $350. Prosecutors alleged that Angelos, the founder of Utah hip-hop label Extravagant, was a gang member and a drug dealer. Angelos denied the allegations and declined a plea bargain offered by prosecutors. Angelos never used or pulled a gun, but the informant later testified in court that he saw one in Angelos’s car during the first buy. He said that during the second buy, Angelos was wearing an ankle holster holding a firearm. Officers later searched his home and found a gun.

The sentence Angelos received as a nonviolent first-time offender fell under a law called 924(c). Federal drug laws require 5- to 30-year mandatory minimum sentences for possessing, brandishing or discharging a gun during a drug-trafficking crime. For each subsequent gun conviction, there is a mandatory sentence of 25 years that must be served consecutively. This is often referred to as “gun stacking,” which is why Angelos received 55 years without parole. He received five years for the gun in the car; 25 years for the second gun charge, having one in an ankle strap; and another 25 years for a third firearms charge, the gun police found in his home. He got one day for the marijuana.

In 2004, when Cassell sentenced Angelos, he wrote a lengthy opinion, comparing Angelos’s sentence (738 months) with the guideline sentences for the kingpin of three major drug trafficking rings that caused three deaths (465 months), a three-time aircraft hijacker (405 months), a second-degree murderer of three victims (235 months) and the rapist of three 10-year-olds (188 months).

Related prior posts providing some Angelos case history:

February 10, 2016 at 05:24 PM | Permalink


Judge Cassell is a good man, following up on a case he felt bad for hsving to do what he dudnt want to do. Long after he is no longer in that position, he still uses his good judgement to write the President, after all he was the sentenceing judge.

I am truely impressed with this man. Much the same as Inam with Judge McConnel I think who dissented in the Begay case and helped lower the sentence if many. No diubt some of these guys also got another drop with drugs -2. With the career offender tag being removed, they would not be eligible.

I hope Pres Obama frees Weldon and he does well, hopefully in time to see his son graduate. Hang in there Weldon, it will happen, gurantee it.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Feb 10, 2016 8:03:45 PM

Cassell would have been a better man to pull a Weinstein and say that the sentence was disproportionate and refused to have imposed it. Appeals be damned.

I don't like this guy and am highly suspicious of him.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Feb 10, 2016 8:28:50 PM

Weldon Angelo has an egregious sentence that should be commuted. There are many nonviolent marijuana offenders serving life sentences or virtual life sentences just like Weldon who will not receive sentencing relief with the current or pending legislation. They all need commutations.

Posted by: beth | Feb 10, 2016 8:51:50 PM

Let us see what President Obama does. Or does not do. Time will tell. Time is a wasting. Do it know. Be right and be proud.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Feb 10, 2016 10:09:42 PM

funny how people who bring guns to drug deals are "non-violent"--certainly, it's possible to characterize people who do that in that manner, but "non-violent" covers up for a serious crime. I am not saying that Angelos necessarily deserved 55 years, but I am not losing sleep.

As for the sentences of the other criminals---seems to me that they were undersentenced--a rapist of three 10 year olds gets a little more than 10 1/2 years--that's sick, and I wonder why there is no outrage about that, but there is outrage about a guy who used guns in the course of his drug dealing.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 11, 2016 8:45:25 AM

When is Obama going to let this guy go?

Posted by: JackMehoff | Feb 11, 2016 9:36:31 AM

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