Johnnie Elvin McKelvey of South Carolina had been convicted of burglary and escaping from a Georgia chain gang. Now McKelvey, 40, pleaded guilty to possessing a gun that a relative gave him. He sold it to the pawn shop for $22, the Charleston Post and Courier reports.
The three convictions made him an “armed career criminal” in federal parlance, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In a state prosecution as a convicted felon with a gun, McKelvey would have faced a maximum of five years in prison. In federal court, 15 years was the minimum sentence U.S. District Judge David C. Norton was allowed to give. The judge said after sentence was pronounced this week: “I didn’t sentence him. Congress sentenced him.”
McKelvey’s sentence comes at a time when some federal judges are questioning the fairness of mandatory minimums. U.S. Attorney Strom Thurmond Jr. said the penalty was appropriate given his criminal history that includes convictions for cocaine possession, receiving stolen goods and petty theft.
Defense attorney Bob Haley says Congress intended the law to go after the “violent predator criminal. However … it is clear that Johnnie McKelvey is not a violent predator criminal.” The law has been used against a man who “simply pawned a $22 handgun that had been in his possession,” Haley said.