|Eliza Wiley/Helena Independent Record|
|Chris Williams faces a mandatory minimum sentence of more than 85 years in federal prison|
Editor’s note: Chris Williams faces a mandatory minimum sentence of more than 85 years in federal prison for medical marijuana. This is a letter written to federal judge Dana Christensen on his behalf by activist Kari Boiter.
The Honorable Judge Dana Christensen
United States District Court
201 E. Broadway
Missoula, Montana 59802
RE: Christopher Wayne Williams
I am writing this letter in support of Chris Williams. In my current career and the decade that I spent working in the television news industry, I have never known anyone as extraordinary, thoughtful, brilliant or honorable as Chris.
As Your Honor knows all too well, very few federal cases go to trial. In fact, out of at least 70 medical marijuana caregivers indicted since President Obama took office, Chris is one of only four to exercise his Sixth Amendment right to a trial by a jury of his peers. Chris didn’t refuse to plead guilty because he denies involvement in a cannabis caregiving operation – as Your Honor heard him openly take responsibility for on the witness stand in September – but because of his deeply-held belief in the U.S. Constitution. He believes that the Tenth Amendment guarantees States the right to experiment with policies on issues like medical marijuana, the “Made in Montana” gun law and campaign finance limits. Chris believes in the right to due process, eminent domain and the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, as evidenced by his civil lawsuit over the March 2011 raids. He clearly believed in the Second Amendment right to bear arms, like 39 percent of his fellow Americans and 58 percent of his neighbors in Montana.
Unfortunately, Chris also believed in the statements made by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, indicating that those in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state medical marijuana laws would not face federal prosecution. When he formed Montana Cannabis with three other men in 2009, Chris had faith that as long as they did everything in their power to strictly obey Montana law, the business would be allowed to operate openly and honestly. Montana Cannabis paid all state and federal taxes; workers compensation and unemployment insurance; generous salaries to close to three dozen employees, some of whom were otherwise unemployable or were previously working for sub-standard wages; the company even gave back to the local community, donating to local food banks and charity fundraisers.
The sometimes arbitrary nature of the federal justice system really stands out in this case. Right now, in 18 states across the nation and the District of Columbia, people are growing and distributing medical marijuana in accordance with state law and nothing is being done to stop it. The federal government itself knowingly participates in an ongoing “conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana” every time it delivers cannabis to the four existing patients in the Compassionate Investigational New Drug program. Since Chris’s conviction, voters in Washington and Colorado have passed legislation to legalize the use of recreational marijuana. As both of these states contemplate how to tax and regulate the manufacture and distribution of cannabis on a retail level, Chris Williams is being prosecuted for engaging in the very same activities. How does this measure up to any sort of ethical or judicial standards?
|Chris Williams and Kari Boiter share a last hug moments before the jury announces their “guilty” verdict|
The sentencing disparity in this particular case is also troubling. Montana Cannabis was founded, owned and operated by four men. All of them were charged with conspiracy. Chris Williams faces a mandatory minimum of at least 85 years in prison and Richard Flor died while serving a five-year prison sentence. What’s more perplexing is the sentence of probation handed down for Tom Daubert, a third founding partner, and the now-public joint sentencing agreement calling for no jail time for Chris Lindsey, the fourth founder of Montana Cannabis, who according to recent news coverage is still actively operating as the “public face” and “leader “of a federally-illegal “Montana medical marijuana group.” How is this justice?
Prosecutor Joe Thaggard argues that Mr. Lindsey should receive probation because “the Defendant and his wife are both ill” and the cost of his “medical care is not something that should be foisted on the taxpayer.” Yet in the case of Richard Flor, his much older and significantly sicker business partner, Mr. Thaggard argued that “the Defendant’s sentence should not be lessened on the basis of his health problems, but does acknowledge that the Court has the discretion to place him in a prison with an appropriate medical facility.” Mr. Flor had a lengthy list of ailments that ultimately led to him having two massive heart attacks in federal custody and dying from kidney failure and undiagnosed colon cancer. How can prison be “appropriate” for Mr. Flor, while probation is “reasonable” for Mr. Lindsey?
In the case of Mr. Lindsey, the government also notes “one significant distinction” – his possession of a firearm. The prosecution says that is “one reason why the government believes the Defendant requires some period of home confinement, as opposed to simply serving a probationary sentence.” There is no mention of a prison term being necessary for possession of a firearm, despite Mr. Thaggard’s acknowledgement of a “confrontation with Lindsey concerning the conduct of the conspiracy” in which Mr. Lindsey apparently showed a man “he was armed with a firearm” and warned the man “not to f–k with him.” Conversely, Mr. Thaggard argues that Chris Williams “engaged in extremely serious criminal conduct” and recommends that “the Court sentence the Defendant to a term of imprisonment” even though Chris did not own or use any of the weapons he faces charges for, let alone threaten or intimidate anyone with them. Mr. Thaggard suggests that even under the latest post-trial “compromise,” the U.S. Attorneys office “retained the ability to argue for a total sentence of up to 50 years” imprisonment for Chris. How can these things be explained?
Sentencing is a chance for Your Honor to consider the unique circumstances of Chris Williams as a person, in addition to the exceptional legal merits. I have personally witnessed resilience, optimism and hopefulness in Chris that is virtually impossible to maintain behind bars, let alone with the bi-monthly transfers from prison to prison which have forced him to endure the “hard time” that comes with meager access to basic hygiene supplies and minimal communication with loved ones.
Chris, a single dad, is parenting his 16-year-old son from prison and spent the holidays without him for the first time in the teenager’s life. In a recent video from the New York Times, Chris explains how his son endured open class discussions about whether medical marijuana was right or wrong and if raided caregivers deserve to go to prison. That’s when Chris began homeschooling the middle-school student and through an accelerated program, helped his son graduate high school two years early. This, in the midst of federal raids and an indictment. Just before the trial that could send him to prison for the rest of his life, Chris helped his teenage son enroll in classes at a local University and get moved into the dorms so he would be in a stable, productive environment should the unthinkable happen.
Chris Williams is honest, compassionate and peaceful. He conducts himself with a level of honor and integrity that most of us can only aspire to attain. I urge you to give our world a chance to benefit from the countless contributions that Chris can only dream about from prison.
Sincerely and most respectfully,
Note: Another good site if you want to help by writing letters, is http://safeaccessnow.org/pardon-chris-williams.