A federal judge denied a bid to reduce the prison terms of two high-ranking members of a “sweeping cocaine conspiracy” that devastated Washington, D.C., in the late 1980s, NPR reports. Senior U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth concluded the requests for early release are “unwarranted” based on the threat the men pose to the community and their roles as key players “in one of the largest drug conspiracies in the history of this city.” He said, “The harm defendants caused to individuals and communities … is immeasurable and in many cases irreversible.” The requests by Melvin Butler and James Jones had been closely watched because of their involvement in the Rayful Edmond gang, one of the most powerful and lucrative drug operations in Washington at a time when violent crime rampaged through the city.
Thousands of prisoners have taken advantage of retroactive changes to sentencing guidelines, part of a push to reduce unfair or disproportionate prison terms for drug offenders. Lamberth expressed disbelief that lighter penalties might apply to managers in a gang that deployed guns and lethal force to intimidate rivals. The judge had harsh words for federal prosecutors in his ruling as well, pronouncing himself “surprised and disappointed” by the U.S. Attorney's decision not to oppose the prisoners' requests to get out early. “It is puzzling to see the government shrug off the starkly violent and calculating natures of the underlying crimes as it allows the defendants' nearly exclusive focus on their post-conviction conduct to go unchallenged,” he wrote. “The court struggles to understand how the government could condone the release of defendants Butler and Jones, each convicted of high-level, sophisticated and violent drug trafficking offenses.”