Federal Judge Grants Sentence Reduction To D.C. Drug Kingpin Rayful Edmond The judge said that years of cooperation with prosecutors earned Rayful Edmond a shorter sentence, but it remains unclear when he will actually get out.
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NPR logo Federal Judge Grants Sentence Reduction To D.C. Drug Kingpin Rayful Edmond

Federal Judge Grants Sentence Reduction To D.C. Drug Kingpin Rayful Edmond

Rayful Edmond III ran a massive drug-smuggling operation in D.C. in the late 1980s and early 1990s, resulting in a conviction and life sentence he is still serving out. Matthias Müller/Flickr hide caption

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Matthias Müller/Flickr

A federal judge on Tuesday agreed to reduce the life sentence being served by onetime D.C. drug kingpin Rayful Edmond to 20 years, putting the man who once led the city's biggest crack-smuggling ring one step closer to getting out of prison altogether.

An actual release from confinement isn't yet guaranteed, though, as Edmond — who has been imprisoned for 31 years — still has to contend with a separate 30-year sentence for running his drug-trafficking ring from prison in the mid-1990s.

In a 72-page ruling, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan sided with the federal government's 2019 request that Edmond be granted early release because of his extensive cooperation with prosecutors, which resulted in convictions of dozens of other drug dealers. He also cited Edmond's role from prison in helping settle conflicts between rival D.C. street gangs, and his expressions of remorse for the crimes he committed in the city.

But Sullivan also admitted that the decision was "extraordinarily difficult and challenging," given the impact Edmond's drug trafficking had on D.C. in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when drug-related killings spiked.

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"Mr. Edmond stands convicted of having run 'the largest cocaine distribution operation in the history of the nation's capital,'" wrote Sullivan. "Although there are no statutorily defined victims in this case, it is beyond dispute that Mr. Edmond's involvement in the criminal enterprise damaged this community deeply and resulted in the destruction of the lives of many individuals."

The scale of Edmond's crimes infused the process since it kicked off two years ago, notably when Sullivan took the unusual step of asking D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine to collect public opinion on whether the federal government's request should be granted. Racine's office did just that, taking more than 500 comments at three public hearings, on the phone and online. The results were mixed, Racine's office said, with speakers being "starkly divided" on whether Edmond should be given a chance at freedom or left to live out the rest of his years in prison.

Sullivan's ruling also comes at a time of profound debate over the legacy of mass incarceration of Black men, many of whom were sent to prison around the same age as Edmond for their role in the drug trade. (Edmond went to prison at age 24.) In recent years D.C. adopted a new law allowing offenders who committed crimes before they turned 18 to petition for early release after they've served 15 years of their sentence; that law was recently expanded to include anyone who committed a crime before they turned 25.

Federal prosecutors have largely opposed those early releases, even as they sought one for Edmond. But Sullivan also chided them for not seeking more of a sentence reduction from Edmond; they only asked for his sentence to be reduced to 40 years in prison, and he went further and reduced it to 20 years.

"The government received the benefit of Mr. Edmond's decades-long cooperation. There is no dispute that the details of his cooperation placed his life in jeopardy. But the government's position ignores the grave risk to Mr. Edmond's life and the lives of his family members associated with his weighty decision to cooperate with the government," he wrote.

Even if Edmond's sentence reduction does get him out of his pending Pennsylvania sentence — regarding running his drug-trafficking ring from prison — early, it remains unclear whether he would even return to D.C., where he was born and raised and still has family. During court hearings in 2019, Edmond's attorneys admitted that he may not be welcome back by some in the city, given his extensive cooperation with prosecutors.

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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