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Editorial: Give Weldon Angelos a pardon, Mr. President

Published November 17, 2013 11:56 am

This injustice is worthy of clemency.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

We didn't think Rocky Anderson and Jake Garn could agree on mom and apple pie, let alone pardoning a convicted felon sent to prison on drug and gun charges.

But there it is, both of their signatures on a letter to President Obama asking that Weldon Angelos' 55-year sentence be commuted. The letter is not the first effort to free Angelos, who has been in federal prison since 2004 after he was convicted in federal court in Utah for selling $350 worth of marijuana while in possession of a firearm. Because of federal mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines, the judge had no choice but to put a man in his early 20s with no prior adult record in prison until he was a senior citizen.

Civil rights advocates have been fighting this case for more than a decade as one of the least justifiable outcomes of mandatory minimums. What's different about this letter is the sweeping cross section represented in the 114 people who signed it. Rocky and Jake not an odd enough couple for you? How about Norm Bangerter and Bonnie Raitt?

Angelos was a budding music producer with a wife and two small children when he did the deed. His cause has attracted the attention of musicians like Raitt, Graham Nash and Napoleon, a former bandmate of Tupac Shakur who is now a motivational speaker. Celebrities aside, the signers also include former FBI Director William Sessions, 29 former U.S. attorneys, 10 former judges, four former governors (including Bangerter) and two former members of Congress (including Garn).

Angelos clearly broke the law, and he didn't help himself when he rejected a plea that would have kept the sentence at 15 years. Instead he went to trial, where he argued that he didn't have a gun during the marijuana sales. There was no evidence that he had showed a weapon during the drug deals, but authorities maintained he was carrying one. They had found guns in a search of his home.

Even the judge handing down the sentence admitted it was wrong but required under sentencing rules. The decision from U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell (now a University of Utah law professor) said the sentence was "unjust, cruel and irrational," and he took the unusual step of recommending the president (then George W. Bush) commute the sentence. But it's never happened.

"The extraordinary injustice of Mr. Angelos's sentence cannot be undone by a change in prosecutorial charging practices," the letter states. "Instead, it requires the President to exercise his explicit power under the Pardon Clause of the U.S. Constitution."

We'll stand with Bonnie, Norm, Jake and Rocky on this one. Give Weldon Angelos a pardon.