Judge criticizes prison term

Ex-city officer sentenced to mandatory 315 years for gun crimes, robbing drug dealers

June 17, 2006|By MATTHEW DOLAN | MATTHEW DOLAN,SUN REPORTER

A federal judge in Baltimore criticized a Supreme Court ruling that forced him yesterday to sentence a former city police detective to spend the next three centuries in prison, urging the nation's highest court to revisit the issue of mandatory sentencing for gun crimes.

Dressed in prison garb, William A. King, 35, showed little reaction as U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz reluctantly imposed the lengthy prison term -- 315 years and one month.

"There is something fundamental wrong with this sentence," Motz said, comparing his condition to the dilemma of Pontius Pilate, the biblical judge of Jesus who expressed doubts but imposed a death sentence anyway.

Appearing anguished and rubbing his face, Motz described the sentence as "absolutely disproportionate to the wrong that was committed, although the wrong that was committed was a very serious one."

The federal judge also ordered King to serve four years of probation and undergo routine drug testing if the former officer is ever released from a penal system without parole.

In April, a jury convicted King and his former partner, Antonio L. Murray, of shaking down drug dealers for their own profit, finding them guilty of more than a dozen federal gun possession crimes that carry stiff, mandatory penalties required by Congress.

Murray is scheduled to be sentenced next week.

Both men were convicted of several counts of robbing drug dealers and users in West Baltimore while wearing their police-issued guns at their sides. The first gun charge carries a mandatory five-year sentence; each subsequent count carries a mandatory 25-year sentence, to be served consecutively.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Peters defended the prison sentence for King, saying in part that the crimes he was convicted of were only a "small snapshot of what Mr. King and Mr. Murray were doing on the street."

In a later interview, Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said, "Congress is always free to review" its mandatory sentencing legislation, but added that he considered the issue resolved in the courts.

King and Murray became a catchphrase on the streets of Baltimore when their names surfaced in the Stop Snitching video, an underground production that warns people against cooperating with police. Their notoriety infuriated department leaders already battling the image problem of several officers accused of wrongdoing.

"People like William King have no place in the Baltimore Police Department and never will," Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm said in a statement yesterday. "Thanks to tireless efforts of the Police Department internal affairs section and the United States attorney's office, justice was served."

His comments were echoed in a statement by the acting special agent in charge of the Baltimore FBI office, Frank E. Goetz, who said: "This man abused the trust of the citizens he swore to protect and vilified the badge entrusted to him."

Both officers testified they stole cocaine and heroin to give to informants because they said their training endorsed it. The Police Department abandoned them because, they said, commanders dared not admit that cracking the drug trade means bending the rules.

In a strongly worded statement at today's hearing, Motz chastised King, saying, "This wasn't rule-bending. You don't use your informant to be a drug dealer for you."

Still, Motz said that the U.S. Supreme Court needed to review the case because he believes the justices earlier misinterpreted how the 25-year gun sentences should be meted out. The judge said the 25-year penalties should apply only to those who re-offend after their first conviction.

Therefore King, Motz said, should not have been required to face so many consecutive 25-year sentences within the same case, which is his first conviction.

King's lawyer, Edward Smith Jr., said he plans to appeal the conviction and sentence.

"He has a lot of courage," Smith said of Motz's comments.

King was so convinced that he could win at trial that he turned down a plea bargain for 10 years in prison, according to Smith.

His superiors once saw King as particularly proficient in arresting drug dealers in the department's new public housing unit.

In court yesterday, King admitted he had made mistakes, but argued his behavior had been taught to him by other officers. He emphasized that he had never fired his gun or intentionally hurt anyone.

And he reiterated that the rules he broke were rules broken by other officers who also felt the pressure to make more arrests.

The evidence against him was overwhelming. Relying on hours of secretly recorded conversations of the officers and several drug dealers who testified at trial, federal prosecutors spent almost three weeks presenting evidence that the officers robbed drug addicts in West Baltimore to reward their sources on the street and line their own pockets.

Defense attorneys described the officers as scapegoats.

After yesterday's hearing, his mother, Carolyn King, and other relatives expressed confidence that the conviction would be overturned on appeal. They appeared heartened by Motz's description of the sentences as unduly harsh.

"Why did the judge say it was unfair? Because it is," King's aunt Joan Bond said.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.