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Truthout.org Asks: Why Has President Obama Pardoned so Few People?

Six and a half years ago, I drove out to Lompoc federal penitentiary in the hills outside Santa Barbara to interview Weldon Angelos, a young man who had received the improbable sentence of fifty-five years without parole for selling marijuana, ostensibly while carrying a small pistol in an ankle holster.

A rap artist from Salt Lake City and friend to Napoleon and other eminences of the hip-hop world, Angelos had been ensnared by an informant in a series of undercover marijuana purchases that reeked of entrapment. What might have been a two-bit state pot case became a high-stakes federal case. When Angelos—who denied carrying a gun when dealing—refused to enter a guilty plea, the feds played hardball, piling more indictments onto the original charge. In December 2003, more than a year after he had been arrested, Angelos was found guilty on several counts, though he was acquitted on others. Because of mandatory minimum statutes linked to the firearms charges, the presiding judge—a George W. Bush appointee named Paul Cassell—was left with no discretion at sentencing. After asking the prosecuting and defense attorneys to advise him on the constitutionality of the sentence, a distraught Cassell handed down the fifty-five-year term, a punishment he called “unjust, cruel and even irrational.” In his opinion, he urged then-President Bush to pardon the young father of three and right a clear judicial wrong.

Angelos was 23 when he was arrested. He was in his mid-20s when I met him. It was such an obvious injustice that I thought the odds were pretty good he’d be out of prison by the time he was 30. Surely one or another president would pardon him or commute his sentence, either reducing it or allowing him to be released on time served.

But today Angelos is in his early 30s and fast approaching his ten-year anniversary behind bars. Bush didn’t pardon him. Neither has President Obama—despite earlier pleas on Angelos’s behalf from several ex-governors, dozens of ex–federal prosecutors and judges, and four US attorneys general; despite growing concerns over mandatory minimum sentences from members of Congress; despite the pledge by onetime Salt Lake City mayor and civil rights lawyer Rocky Anderson to “do anything I can to remedy this unbelievable injustice”; despite The Washington Post and other leading publications urging clemency; despite the fact that, at least rhetorically, the Obama administration has moved away from the sensational, fearmongering tactics of the drug war, and that drug czar Gil Kerlikowske doesn’t even like to talk about a “war on drugs”; despite the fact that in late 2012 Obama said the feds had “bigger fish to fry” than prosecuting marijuana users in states moving toward legalization; despite the fact that one state after another has rolled back its most draconian mandatory minimum sentences for small-time drug users and dealers.

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3 Responses to Truthout.org Asks: Why Has President Obama Pardoned so Few People?

  1. Shirley Locke Reply

    January 19, 2013 at 1:55 am

    All I can say is; lets continue to pray for our president and first lady. I have never seen a president who has endured sooooo much ABUSE, trying to make the world a better place for all man kind. Pray that GOD will open up those minds who are soooooo NEGATIVE. I can’t even imagine the stess, hurt and pain he and his family has to endure. I pray that his daughters are being sheild by the power of GOD from the media, because they shouldn’t have to endure this satanic mess. Pray that GOD WILL SHIELD THE INTIRE FAMILY AND KEEP THEM. “WE NEED TO REALIZE THAT THE AMERICAN WAY IS TO ABIDE BY THE PHRASE, “GOD BLESS AMERICA, LAND OF THE FREE.” IT NEEDS TO BE PRACTICED MORE THAN PREACHED, BECAUSE IT REALLY DOES MEAN A LOT FOR ALL AMERICANS, RACIST FREE. SO I PRAY THAT GOD BLESS AMERICA FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART. GOD BLESS OUR PRESIDENT, I TRULY MEAN IT FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART.

    • Ruwh Reply

      January 23, 2013 at 9:23 am

      Yeah but he filled out the application so he gets what all comes with the job .

  2. Shirley Locke Reply

    January 19, 2013 at 2:09 am

    yes, I would love to receive news update by email.

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