By Joe Beck
The first of five defendants convicted of participating in a major crack cocaine trafficking ring in Winchester left a federal courtroom Wednesday sentenced to life imprisonment on 10 counts.
Antonio Demetrius Williams fought the charges during an eight-day jury trial involving more than 50 witnesses, the majority of them testifying against the defendants.
Williams's defense attorney, Aaron L. Cook of Harrisonburg, tried unsuccessfully for a lesser sentence by filing a post-conviction motion challenging federal sentencing guidelines as unconstitutional under the Eight Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Cook argued that Williams, who was 20 during the time he committed the offenses and has since turned 22, is too young for such a harsh sentence, despite two previous drug-related convictions in 2008 and 2009 that made him eligible for life imprisonment.
"It is unconscionable that a 20-year-old offender must receive a mandatory life sentence under a "three strikes" provision where the first two strikes were simple possession charges," Cook wrote.
In a sentencing memorandum filed last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Grayson A. Hoffman urged Judge Michael F. Urbanski to follow the sentencing guidelines.
"The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has repeatedly found that . . . mandatory life sentences in these cases do not violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution," Grayson wrote.
The case against Williams and his four co-defendants involved a total of 27 counts of cocaine trafficking from several residences during a period from May 2009 to early 2012.
Hoffman told jurors during the trial that the volume of drug sales reached 100 a day for much of the time the ring operated.
Prosecutors said the defendants sold at least 2,700 grams of cocaine during the conspiracy, although the actual total was probably much higher.
In his sentencing memorandum, Cook argued that Williams "never really had a chance" in life.
"Antonio was raised around drugs and drug distribution," Cook wrote. "Indeed, his father is just finishing a lengthy drug-related incarceration, and his mother is a co-defendant in the case."
Cook added that Williams dropped out of ninth grade, "and has never held a conventional job."
But he also described Williams as "kind and generous" and "not a violent man," traits that would make him suitable for release from prison while he is still in his 30s.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or email@example.com