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Posted January 22, 2011 | comments 8 Comments

Kellam family says sentence 'unjust'

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.


    It isn't clear if this sentence was the result of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act which created a 100 to 1 disparity in sentencing guidelines for crack vs powder cocaine, but life plus 30 years seems way to harsh. The average murder sentence is less than 20 years I believe, with time served being less than that.

    This whole thing is a result of the wrong-headed approach to drugs in America. It's a health problem, not a criminal problem. When it comes to dealers, of course it's a different angle than users, but still, this sentence is just crazy. Paying a reasonable price for breaking the law is a good idea. In this case it isn't reasonable.

    When the price for non-violent crimes is so out of line with violent crimes you end up with overcrowded prisons and violent criminals being released early to make way for those convicted of this sort of crime. And that is the reality in America today.

    If she had been providing alcohol to a minor who died from alcohol poisoning, or killed someone while driving drunk, the sentence would not be anywhere near this one. It doesn't appear anyone died as a result of this woman's actions.

    America needs to face the reality that the drug-war is never going to be won, and handle it as the prohibition of alcohol was. Legalize it, tax it to death, and take away the opportunity for dealers to profit.

    It would help places like Mexico, and the US, greatly reduce the violence and shattering of lives that is taking place now, and let us spend our tax dollars on education and health care issues such as treatment for drug addicts, whether addicted to cocaine, heroin, cigarettes alcohol or pills.

    It really seems quite logical to me...Dont deal drugs if you dont want to suffer the consequences. I think she is in the best place, away from anyone else she could harm with that poison.

    Crack Dealer? Too Bad so Sad! Punishment fits the crime. How many lives has this felon destroyed besides their own? If one of your kids bought this stuff you be shouting for the death penalty. NO SYMPATHY HERE!

    I'd say the Kellam family has it right. Virginia is not the place to be poor and a criminal defendant. On the other hand, remember the arms heiress Susan Cummings. She shot her polo playing boyfriend to death in 1997 as he sat eating breakfast at her Fauquier estate and received a sentence of 60 days, reduced to 51 days for good behavior, in the county jail.

    One sure fire way to advoid this situation is to stay away from the substances that got her into this predicament. But I assume that the drugs were more important than rasing her three children. Maybe she thought that drugs were a way to fix things that are a part of everyday life. I feel she got what she bargined for for she knew waht the consequences were.

    I feel she got what she asked for because she knew what the consquences were. Evidently the drugs took precedence over rasing her three children. Everyday life has it ups and downs and people try to escape the reality of it by turning to "crutches."

    What if it was your son or daughter that she sold crack to? Ask me the death penalty would be better.

    Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. I don’t feel bad for her. Drug dealers place EVERYONE in the community at risk. Everyone!!!

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