Little Melvin's Holiday

U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis gave legendary Baltimore gangster "Little Melvin" Williams a new lease on life Jan. 16, reducing his 22-year sentence for a gun charge--meted out by Garbis in 2000--to time served, saying that the previous sentence was "grossly excessive." The 61-year-old Williams, one of the local power structure's favorite convicts, was thus allowed a rare pleasure in his oft-incarcerated life: celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday a free man.Federal prosecutor James Warwick told the Nose, though, that the vacation won't last if he can help it. "I can only tell you what I said in court," Warwick says. "We had requested a warrant for violation of parole long in advance" of last week's hearing. He says that Williams' 1999 gun conviction violated the conditions of his parole for a 1985 drug-trafficking conviction. "We requested it again" on Jan. 16, "so hopefully the [federal] parole commission will act soon," allowing Warwick to try to bring Williams, once again, before a federal sentencing judge.

The King holiday has fallen during important times in Williams' life before. On MLK's birthday in 1987, for example, the last of a five-part Sun series on Williams by David Simon (of Homicide and The Corner fame) was published, next to a short piece about a local politician's call to boycott the paper for running the story on such of momentous day. At the time, Williams was in Lewisburg, the federal prison in Pennsylvania, paying the price for revolutionizing the heroin trade in Baltimore, a city long known as the nation's heroin capital.

The then-city councilman who led the boycott is state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden of the 45th District. His colleague, Sen. Joan Carter Conway of the 43rd District, is married to Williams' longtime friend, assistant chief liquor board inspector inspector Tim Conway. Conway rallied zealously behind an ex-lieutenant in Williams' drug organization,Kenneth "Kenny Bird" Jackson, whose family owned the now-defunct El Dorado strip club, in his wrangling with the city over relocating the club in 2000. When Williams was first tried on the gun charge in 1999, then-state Sen. Clarence Mitchell IV and Bethel A.M.E. Church pastor Frank Reid testified on his behalf as character witnesses.

What is it with Williams that he's able to profit for years off of heroin and cocaine dealing, spawn a new generation of violent drug kingpins, and still garner such warm backing from the city's political and religious leadership? The answer ostensibly lies in redemption--when released last week, Williams explained to reporters that God appeared to him in a vision in 1996, prompting him to change his life. The Nose has to wonder, then, why he used a 9mm handgun and a small stun gun to beat a man on a SoWeBo street in March 1999, as witnesses described at his trial? Is this the behavior of a redeemed man who has dedicated his life to serving God?

Prosecutors say it isn't, and consider Williams a career criminal who should spend his remaining days repaying society from a prison cell. And that is exactly what was supposed to happen after the 1999 conviction. "I was told [by the prosecutor] that he would basically be in jail for the rest of his life," recalls a person who testified at that trial, who asked not to be identified. Now that Williams is free, the witness is nervous despite Warwick's assurances that "I have nothing to fear." And the Nose can't blame the good citizen--it takes a lot of guts to take the stand against one of the most notorious criminals in the annals of Baltimore bad guys.

Garbis may have softened up on Williams, but the Nose has a hard time buying this redemption business. Besides, there are plenty of convicts serving long prison sentences who claim religious conversion and God's work behind bars, serving as model prisoners and helping fellow inmates straighten out their priorities. If prosecutors are successful, perhaps Williams will start a prison ministry--as an inmate.