Two notorious former Baltimore Police officers serving hundreds of years in federal prison for shaking down drug dealers are seeking to be released, arguing their sentences wouldn’t hold up today.
William King and Antonio Murray, public housing drug cops taken down by the FBI in 2005, took their cases to trial and in 2006 were sentenced to staggering prison terms of 315 and 139 years, respectively. At his sentencing, King described learning to commit crimes as a form of on-the-job training, and blamed immense pressure to reduce crime as the reason he and some colleagues went bad.
The judge at the time called the sentences “grossly disproportionate” to their crimes, and Congress has since passed sentencing reforms that, if the officers were convicted today, would have led to significantly lesser sentences, their attorneys say. The men were convicted of robbery, extortion, and drug and handgun offenses.
“In 2018, Congress walked back the provisions that mandated Mr. King’s harsh sentence,” attorney Steve Levin wrote. “If he were sentenced today, he would have received a substantially shorter sentence than the one imposed.”
Coupled with COVID-19 concerns, the attorneys are asking that the men be granted compassionate release.
“The sentence that I am imposing, I think everybody would agree, is absolutely disproportionate to the wrong that was committed.”— U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz
The officers were veterans assigned to the BPD’s public housing drug unit, which no longer exists. King and Murray were called out in the “Stop Snitching” underground video, with a man on the tape saying the officers looked out for certain drug dealers. A man they shook down went to the FBI, and authorities launched an investigation that found the officers were detaining and robbing drug dealers.
The officers distributed the drugs they seized to other dealers with whom they were aligned, and pocketed cash and collected money from subsequent sales.
The case was a decade before the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, in which a unit of officers were indicted federally on charges of robbing people, taking drugs and lying about investigations. Before their arrests, the officers won praise from the department for getting large numbers of guns off the street.
At King’s sentencing, he told U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz that his actions came as a result of pressure to reduce crime and that there was a tacit acceptance of breaking the rules within the department.
“The citizens of Baltimore put extreme pressure on the local government to reduce violence in the city. The local government puts pressure on the mayor. The mayor puts pressure on the commissioner. The commissioner puts pressure on his commander, down to pressure on the officers,” King said. “With this pressure from superiors comes your quotas and your bending of the rules to make more arrests and build better cases.
“Officers will never admit to this now after my arrest, but officers and detectives have been trained to bend the rules,” he continued. “Where do these procedures and tactics come from? You don’t learn them from the academy, you don’t learn them from in-service training. You learn these tactics from your peers. You learn them from co-workers. You learn them from your sergeants, lieutenants. You learn them from, also sometimes from other agencies.”
Motz put no stock in King’s claims, but the judge did say he was uncomfortable with the mandatory sentence he was required to hand down. He compared his condition to the dilemma of Pontius Pilate, the biblical judge of Jesus who expressed doubts but imposed a death sentence anyway.
“The sentence that I am imposing, I think everybody would agree, is absolutely disproportionate to the wrong that was committed, although the wrong that was committed was certainly a very serious one,” Motz said at the time.
The sentences are unlike any that other corrupt officers have faced, in part because they took the case to trial rather than reach plea deals with federal prosecutors.
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In the Gun Trace Task Force case, the longest sentence of any officer went to Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, who pleaded guilty and received 25 years. Two officers who took their charges to trial, Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, received 18 years, while officers who cooperated with the government received between seven and 12 years.
“Officers will never admit to this now after my arrest, but officers and detectives have been trained to bend the rules.”— Former Baltimore Police Officer William King
An officer convicted of drug dealing in an unrelated case, Daniel Redd, pleaded guilty in 2012 and received 20 years in prison.
The sentences for King and Murray were much higher because the court was required to “stack” — run consecutively — various gun-related convictions related to different instances of robberies. Had the officers struck plea deals, their sentences also would have been significantly shorter. Murray’s attorney says he was offered a six-year plea deal after he was charged, and a 10-year deal on the eve of trial.
“It is therefore difficult to imagine that the [U.S. Attorney’s Office] could now argue that the 139-year sentence imposed on Mr. Murray after trial is in any way reasonable,” wrote his attorney, Andrew White.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said prosecutors would respond to the filing in court and declined to comment.
The officers’ attorneys say they have been infraction-free while in prison and are ready to return.
“ … We respectfully suggest that continued incarceration is not necessary to protect the community from Mr. Murray,” White wrote. “He committed the offenses charged solely because of his long-ago terminated status as a police officer. He will never again have that status or opportunity.”