More than three years ago, a federal jury acquitted Antwaun Ball on racketeering and conspiracy charges that he led a violent drug gang in the Congress Park neighborhood in Southeast Washington, convicting him solely of a $600, half-ounce drug deal.
But at Ball’s long-delayed sentencing Thursday, U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts disagreed, saying he saw clear evidence of a drug conspiracy before sentencing Ball, 40, to more than 18 years in prison for his conviction of the 2001 hand-to-hand drug transaction.
The judge’s ruling in federal court in Washington shines a light on a little known practice called acquitted conduct sentencing that lets judges mete out tougher prison terms based on conduct jurors rejected.
Arguing Ball was the ringleader of a gang called the Congress Park Crew, prosecutors pointed to, among other things, testimony from cooperating witnesses in the federal drug case as well as guilty pleas by people who said they saw Ball dealing drugs and carrying guns.
Meanwhile, Ball’s defense attorney, John Carney, cited testimony of people who worked with Ball on various community projects in Congress Park, including a former U.S. Parole Board commissioner, Janie Jeffers, who called Ball “a catalyst” for improving the neighborhood.
Mostly, Mr. Carney pointed to the words of a juror in the case, Jim Caron, who died not long after writing a letter to the judge after the trial. “Conspiracy? A crew? With the evidence the prosecutor presented, not one among us could see it. Racketeering? We dismissed that even more quickly,” Mr. Caron wrote.
“This is one of the few times we know exactly what the jury was thinking,” Mr. Carney argued.
Prosecutors disagreed: “That’s one person’s perspective,” said Mr. Guerrero.
Defense lawyers also argued in court memos that if the judge relies on acquitted conduct, Ball unfairly would get a prison term far longer than what he’d receive under the federal sentencing guidelines.
But prosecutors pointed out that those guidelines are advisory, not mandatory, and that selling five or more grams of crack cocaine by law carries a sentence anywhere from five to 40 years in prison.
Judge Roberts said the “stark duality” of Ball’s persona was “confounding and tragic.” And he said while he respected the jury’s verdict, he couldn’t turn a blind eye to what he called “clear and convincing” evidence that Ball was part of a long-running conspiracy to deal crack cocaine in Congress Park.
The judge did not otherwise address Mr. Caron’s letter, which was later cited by Gilbert S. Merritt Jr., senior judge on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in an unrelated case in Kentucky involving acquitted conduct issues.
Judge Roberts said his reliance on acquitted conduct in determining a sentence for Ball was proper. He also gave Ball credit for the time he’s served since being locked up in April 2004, and he reduced his sentence by 15 months because of delays in carrying it out.
Ball was the final defendant sentenced in the March 2005 case, which at one point seemed likely to be a death-penalty prosecution before Judge Roberts tossed out capital punishment on a missed filing deadline.