Federal Judge Curtis Collier, saying that he expects Congress to lower sentences for drug defendants, on Thursday gave reduced time to three Whitwell residents involved in a major marijuana operation.
Judge Collier, focusing on "sentencing disparity," said Congress seems headed for passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act. He said it has the endorsement of the Department of Justice and support from senators from different political backgrounds. He also said the federal Sentencing Commission has issued guidelines for reduced drug sentences.
The act would shift the focus to putting away hardcore and violent defendants in federal prisons.
Judge Collier said sponsors of the bill say that under current sentencing all of the Department of Justice budget is going to be eaten up by the cost to operate federal prisons. The act would basically cut drug sentences in half and also increase the use of the "safety valve" to cut time on mandatory sentences.
There was also discussion at the sentencing for Jackie Morrison, Sammy Nance and Ollie Frizzell about some states, including Colorado, legalizing marijuana.
The sentencing range for the ringleader, Morrison, was 121-151 months. He got 72 months.
Nance faced 37-46 months and was given 24 months.
Ms. Frizzell had a sentencing range of 27-33 months and got 30 months. However, she had already gotten a break for cooperating with the government.
Morrison was also ordered to pay a $100,000 fine and Ms. Frizzell a $2,000 fine.
Morrison went to trial and the jury ordered a $779,000 forfeiture of his property.
Prosecutors said Morrison, 65, made 21 trips to Texas to pick up large quantities of Mexican-grown marijuana. He made up to $1.6 million during about a six-year period, it was stated.
When he was raided, agents found 22 pounds of marijuana along with a set of scales that would weigh up to 15 pounds.
Prosecutor Jay Woods said Morrison made numerous cash deposits to a bank account, but they never exceeded $10,000 so as not to trigger a reporting requirement.
Attorney Jerry Summers said Morrison had an excavating business that accounted for some of his earnings. He said he made many contributions to the community, including digging many grave plots free of charge.
He said, "He would be welcomed back by the vast majority of Whitwell residents."
Attorney Michael Davis said Ms. Frizzell had been threatened on the Topix Internet website, with one poster saying, "She deserves the worst hell" and another writing, "She needs her butt whipped." He said her house was vandalized.
Agents investigating the case included those from the IRS.