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Judge Rules on Plea to Reduce Drug Kingpin's Prison Sentence

Updated on September 11, 2015

Judge Asks Whether Congress Has Gone Too Far

A judge’s expected fall 2015 ruling on a motion to reduce the prison sentence of a former kingpin in a murderous D.C. drug ring is casting doubt over a congressional move to reduce prison populations.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth is asking whether the case demonstrates Congress is going too far, according to a report by The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net).

Melvin D. Butler, a supplier for D.C. cocaine boss Rayful Edmond III, is asking for two years to be knocked off his 28-1/2-year sentence for good behavior.

At its height in the 1980s, the gang led by Edmond employed more than 150 people and imported as much as 1,700 pounds of Colombian cocaine into Washington, D.C. monthly. The gang also is suspected of murdering 30 people.

During a hearing on Butler’s plea for a reduced sentence, Judge Lamberth said he was concerned by what Congress is doing. He said he would have thought drug kingpins would not benefit from actions by the government.

Legislation was scheduled to be introduced in Congress in September 2015 to reduce the prison population even as many cities — including Washington — are seeing an upward spike in murders and other violent crimes. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier blames the spike on incarceration policies that free repeat offenders from prison sooner than previously.

In Butler’s case, he is benefiting from April 2014 U.S. Sentencing Commission guidelines that make nearly 46,000 drug offenders in federal prisons eligible for reduced sentences if a court approves. The commission also reduced the punishment for most drug offenses.

Judges grant the requests for reduced sentences in about 76 percent of the cases. They have included 45 successful requests in the District of Columbia, 196 in Maryland and 331 in Northern Virginia.

Butler’s plea for a reduced sentence is unusual only because most of the prison reprieves are given to low-level convicts. Some of them were convicted of possessing marijuana.

Butler, now 52, was arrested in 1989 during a crime wave that peaked in 1991 with 479 murders, many of them drug-related. He was a partner with Edmond in a cocaine network that reportedly earned $1 million a week in profits.

Butler’s life sentence was reduced to 34 years on appeal. He could be eligible for parole in 2017.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Dani Jahn said Butler has changed after passing more than half his life in prison.

Overcrowded prisons leave Congress groping for answers

Early prison releases of repeat offenders are suspected of raising crime levels nationwide.
Early prison releases of repeat offenders are suspected of raising crime levels nationwide.

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