In 2002, then-24-year-old Weldon Angelos, a rap record label founder whose career was taking off after a collaboration with Snoop Dogg, sold $350 worth of pot to a police informant who happened to be a lifelong acquaintance on three separate occasions while in possession of a firearm for self defense.
Due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws, Angelos was arrested and sentenced to 55 years without the possibility of parole. Since then, Angelos has become a symbol of the injustice of mandatory minimum sentences. Those supporting his early release include U.S. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the billionaire Koch brothers, and even former federal judge Paul G. Cassell, who sentenced him in the case.
“In 2004 when I was forced to impose that sentence, I wrote a lengthy opinion explaining why that sentence was ‘unjust,’” wrote Cassell. “Indeed, at the time, I wrote that ‘to correct what appears to be an unjust sentence, the court also calls on the President—in whom our Constitution reposes the power to correct unduly harsh sentences—to commute Mr. Angelos’ sentence to something that is more in accord with just and rational punishment.’ Now that Mr. Angelos has served more than twelve years in prison, I once again want to call on you to commute his sentence. I thus write in strong support of a clemency petition that he has filed.”
“The underlying problem in the Angelos case can be traced back to the [charge] ‘stacking’
feature of the crimes for which Angelos was convicted. As illustrated by his case, he
was able to rack up decades of prison time by possessing a gun in several separate
criminal offenses, even where those offenses are all essentially part of the same episode,” Cassell added.
Koch Industries attorney Mark Holden piled on in support of Angelos and said, “Judge Cassell’s letter articulates well the grave injustice involved in Weldon’s prison sentence.”
Cassell’s letter to President Obama concluded, “In 2004, when I sentenced Mr. Angelos, I thought his sentence was ‘cruel, unjust, and irrational.’ I am even more firmly convinced of that conclusion today, when the Angelos case has been widely discussed as a clear example of an unduly harsh sentence. Because his appeals have been exhausted, the only solution for Angelos is a Presidential commutation. I urge you to swiftly commute his sentence.”
Weldon’s sister Lisa Angelos wrote in a Change.org petition urging his release, “Senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch of Utah, and dozens of prominent celebrities, activists, book authors, legal scholars, business leaders (including Koch Industries), and former elected and appointed government officials have joined Judge Cassell in calling on President Obama to release Weldon from prison. But that hasn’t happened yet. After 12 years, Weldon is still in prison. It breaks my heart. My father feared he would die without ever seeing Weldon free from prison. And on January 4, 2015, that’s exactly what happen. Our father died without seeing his son free from behind bars.”
Obama administration spokesperson Brandi Hoffine told The Washington Post that the President does not comment on cases that are still pending and said, “The President expects to continue to issue commutations throughout the remainder of his time in office. But, clemency is just one of the tools the administration is using to address the vast inequities in the criminal justice system. We will also continue to work toward comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system in Congress.“