Ex-Baltimore drug kingpin tries to regain his freedom

Marshals picked him up after a judge released him

April 04, 2003|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

When a federal judge abruptly released Melvin "Little Melvin" Williams in January from what had been a 22-year prison sentence, the breath of freedom for the man considered to be one of the worst drug lords in Baltimore history turned out to be a short one.

Less than 24 hours after Williams walked out of U.S. District Court in Baltimore a free man, the U.S. Marshals Service picked him up on an old parole violation warrant, and the 61-year-old ex-convict who had vowed to dedicate his life to serving God swiftly found himself back behind bars.

Today, Williams is scheduled to go back before the judge who freed him in January to argue that he was unlawfully detained and to ask, once more, to be returned home. Federal prosecutors are expected, once more, to say that Williams should face a longer stint in jail.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James G. Warwick said in court papers that the government's decision to revoke parole "must be upheld if the [U.S. Parole] Commission has a `rational basis' for having so acted." Committing a new felony - in Williams' case, using a handgun to beat a man on a West Baltimore street in 1999 - means "the existence of a `rational basis' ... cannot be logically contested," Warwick said.

Even if U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis agrees that Williams should stay in custody for now, however, the parole board determined last month that Williams should be eligible again for release in September.

It is a decidedly brighter future than what Williams faced as little as six months ago, when he was three years into a two-decade, no-parole prison term for the 1999 gun violation and appeared likely to spend the rest of his life in prison.

A federal jury in Baltimore convicted Williams in October 1999 of being a felon in possession of a handgun after hearing that he had used a 9 mm handgun and a small stun gun to beat a man on a West Baltimore street during a dispute over a bail bond debt.

Using the federal armed career criminal statute, prosecutors pointed to three convictions to gain an extraordinarily long prison term for Williams - a 1967 drug and gun case in state court in Baltimore, a 1975 conviction in U.S. District Court in Baltimore for conspiracy to distribute heroin and a 1985 conviction in federal court in Virginia for cocaine distribution.

But Garbis cut Williams' sentence to time served in January after finding that Williams did not meet the technical requirements of the career criminal law and rejecting as "grossly excessive" the sentence he originally handed down in March 2000.

Williams - notorious in Baltimore for presiding over a sophisticated heroin ring that employed as many as 200 street-level dealers in the 1970s - was released after serving 38 months in the gun case.

"I just think there's an occasion where what's right is right," Garbis said at Williams' resentencing Jan. 16. "And I don't think the community has the slightest bit of reason to be concerned here."

Williams said in January that he was returning to the community as a humbled and deeply religious man who would dedicate himself to serving God.

"Sometime in my 50s, I became aware that there was a God in charge, and not a Melvin," he told the judge.

But for Williams, there was one other factor as well - the U.S. Parole Commission.

When he was arrested on the gun charge in March 1999, he had been on parole for less than three years from a 24-year prison sentence handed down after his 1985 conviction. Although the federal prison system has since abolished parole, Williams still faced parole revocation because of the gun crime.

Parole officials did not take immediate action, but they left open the possibility that he would face sanctions after the 1999 case reached its "final disposition," court records show.

Williams argues that any punishment should have come before he walked out of the federal courthouse in January. Waiting until he had been freed from a prison term amounted to an "unlawful detention," defense attorney Michael E. Marr said in court papers arguing for Williams' release.

But prosecutors say it was Williams who kept the case alive through a series of appeals.

In court papers, Warwick said it was Williams who "demonstrated his own refusal to accept his sentence as the final disposition of his case, and kept open the distinct possibility that the actual time he would serve in prison would end up being substantially less than originally ordered."

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