Judge Sullivan strikes again

During the 1980s, Rayful Edmond III was the narcotics kingpin of Washington D.C. He probably did more harm to residents of the city than anyone else in history.

According to this report in the Washington Post, Edmond oversaw an operation that brought around 1,700 pounds of cocaine into Washington every month. Law enforcement officials estimate that he was making around $2 million a week from drug dealing between 1985 and 1989.

The cocaine epidemic in which Edmond played such a central role wrecked the lives of countless Washingtonians. The violence associated with it caused the city’s homicide rate to spike. D.C. became known as the nation’s murder capital. Many pregnant women became frequent users, giving birth to underweight infants who were addicted to the drug.

Edmond was personally involved in the D.C. murder fest. That’s why, years later when he began cooperating with law enforcement in the hope of getting his sentence reduced, Edmond was able to provide information about 20 unsolved killings.

Edmond was sentenced by a federal court in D.C. to life imprisonment without parole. But now, Judge Emett Sullivan has reduced that sentence to 20 years.

Edmond has already served considerably more time than that. However, he was also sentenced to 30 years by a court in Pennsylvania for dealing drugs from prison in that state. So depending on what happens there, Edmond may have to remain in jail.

Not thanks to Judge Sullivan, though.

Sullivan reduced Edmond’s sentence because he cooperated with federal authorities investigating drug dealing. But this was only after Edmond had continued to deal drugs while in prison and had received that second conviction.

Sullivan claimed that Edmond’s cooperation showed his remorse. Nonsense. Edmond may or may not be remorseful (and why should we care if he is?). However, his cooperation is evidence only of his desire to obtain a reduced sentence.

Because of Edmond’s cooperation, federal prosecutors filed a motion in Sullivan’s court for a sentence reduction. However, the reduction they sought was to 40 years, not 20.

Sullivan criticized the prosecutors for not giving enough weight to Edmond’s cooperation. He worried that reductions like the one they sought for Edmond won’t encourage other convicts to cooperate.

But career prosecutors have a far better understanding than Sullivan of the incentives that will cause inmates to cooperate with them, and of how to balance this consideration with the need to severely punish society’s worst offenders.

Unfortunately, Judge Sullivan seems to get off on imposing his views of how prosecutors should go about their job — even when it’s unlawful for him to do so.

Sullivan asked that D.C. residents be polled as to how they feel about an early release for Edmond. I never realized that criminal sentencing was a popularity contest.

If it is, Edmond lost. Even with the passage of more than 30 years, a majority of respondents with an opinion said the drug kingpin should remain in prison.

Sullivan ignored the result of his own poll, just as he ignored the prosecutors’ recommendation.

This month Sullivan announced that he will retire from full-time duty on the federal bench. That’s the good news. The bad news is he will take senior status.

Thus, we lack even the consolation that Sullivan’s attempt to release Edmond, arguably the worst criminal in D.C. history, will be his parting gift to the city.