Court to decide fate of ex-drug kingpin

Judge favors early release for `Little Melvin' Williams

April 05, 2003|By Sara Neufeld and Gail Gibson | Sara Neufeld and Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Melvin "Little Melvin" Williams, considered one of the worst drug lords in Baltimore history, returned to prison yesterday while a federal judge deliberates whether to release him early.

But even if U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis rules against Williams, "we're almost home anyway," defense attorney Michael E. Marr said after court yesterday.

The parole board has determined that Williams is eligible for release in September, and Marr said he is optimistic that his client will be released to a halfway house before then.

Williams, 61, is notorious in Baltimore for presiding over a sophisticated heroin ring that employed as many as 200 street-level dealers in the 1970s. He says he is now dedicated to serving God.

Garbis abruptly released Williams in January from what was a 22-year sentence for being a felon in possession of a handgun. But less than a day later, the U.S. Marshals Service arrested him on an old parole violation warrant and put him behind bars again. Williams and his lawyer argued yesterday that such detention was illegal because it came too late.

"When Your Honor was gracious enough to let me go free, they scrambled to find a reason to bring the defendant back into custody," Williams told the judge, in an impassioned explanation of legal intricacies. As he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, he shouted to his wife: "The law is the law. And your man knows the law."

Garbis made clear yesterday that he would like to release Williams if he can find legal reason for doing so. He wasn't sure, however, that such reason exists. He said he will issue a written ruling on the matter promptly.

"If there is any legal basis to have Mr. Williams released," he said, "I want him released."

Williams was convicted in October 1999 of using a 9 mm handgun and a small stun gun to attack a man on a West Baltimore street during a dispute over a bail bond debt.

Using the federal armed career criminal statute, prosecutors won an extraordinarily long prison term for Williams because of three prior convictions: one for a 1967 drug and gun case, a 1975 conviction for conspiracy to distribute heroin, and a 1985 conviction for cocaine distribution.

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

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