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Kellam family says sentence 'unjust'

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Vonceil Hill, left, speaks in Winchester on Friday about the sentencing of her daughter, Charceil Kellam. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

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Woman gets life plus 30 years for drug charges; supporters blame attorney Thomson

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- The justice system failed Charceil D. Kellam and unjustly sent her to serve life plus 30 years in prison for minor drug crimes, according to the woman's supporters.

A former Berryville resident, Kellam, 47, remains incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Conn., serving time for crack distribution and conspiracy. Kellam lost an appeal of her sentence last month in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Kellam's son, Perry Davis, 28, of Berryville, and her mother, Vonceil Hill, along with other supporters, held a news conference Friday morning on the Loudoun Street Pedestrian Mall in downtown Winchester, expressing their anger at the system and asking for legal help to fight the sentencing.

"She was no saint," Hill said. "She had a drug problem. But she didn't deserve life plus 30 years."

Davis agreed.

"Life plus 30 we truly feel is very unjust," he said. "I'm her oldest son, but she also has two other children, 14 and 10, who really need her home."

Kellam has been incarcerated since September 2006.

Supporters claimed embattled Winchester attorney Paul H. Thomson, now charged in federal court on counts of drug possession and tampering with evidence and a witness, failed to adequately represent Kellam in her cases in local courts in 2006.

Family members said they don't feel Thomson's recent indictment on federal charges has a connection to Kellam's situation. But Davis said the family held the news conference to speak about "a lot of injustice and messed up things in this community as well, and I believe that, due to [Thomson's] part in my mother's case has made a big difference in her sentencing guidelines and her sentence -- caused it to be more extreme."

The family also claimed Thomson represented a woman who eventually played a role as an informant in Kellam's case, Davis said.

Supporters have said Kellam's complaint alleging state Trooper T.H. Seagle used excessive force to apprehend and arrest her on May 31, 2006, went virtually ignored. Kellam filed the complaint in Clarke County General District Court on July 12, 2006,  accusing the trooper of causing her permanent injury in the arrest, according to copies of the complaint provided by the family. Kellam filed a similar complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice on Nov. 16, 2006.

No action ever was taken against the trooper, the family said. Segal was one of numerous law enforcement agents involved in her arrest that September, they said.

"We're hoping through this we can find some type of legal help because, right now, she has a public defender that we feel like is not doing the job."

The family can't afford to hire new legal counsel, they said.

Michael T. Hemenway represented Kellam in federal court as her appointed public defender. The family claims Hemenway failed to adequately represent her. Online court records show judges denied Kellam's own motions requesting a judge to replace Hemenway. Motions for bond, dismissal of the charges based on speedy trial issues, suppression of evidence, and to set aside the March 27, 2007, verdict in her jury trial, all filed by Hemenway, were denied.

Federal authorities accused Kellam of being involved in a large-scale crack cocaine distribution ring centered around Kent and Kern streets in Winchester. She was added to a federal indictment in September 2006 that had charged 27 people in what became known as Operation Blockbuster.

A U.S. District Court jury in Harrisonburg found Kellam guilty of three counts of distribution of crack and one count of conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. U.S. Judge Glen A. Conrad sentenced Kellam to life in prison plus 30 years for the crimes, though he noted at the proceeding that the term appeared harsh.


Kellam's conviction for conspiracy stood even after authorities admitted in federal court they had identified the wrong person as the link needed to make the charge stick, according to the family. They said authorities accused Kellam of conspiring with a man who went by "Cowboy" to deal drugs, but it turned out another person had the same nickname, Davis said.

Kellam did not know any of the people arrested in Blockbuster and lived in West Virginia at the time of the initial arrests, Hill said.

Kellam appealed her sentence to the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on the grounds the term was "cruel and unusual" and that it violated constitutional rights. The argument by Hemenway failed to sway a panel of appellate judges that ruled her crimes plus prior convictions warranted two life terms plus 30 years.


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