- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A federal appellate court has upheld the life sentence of a disgraced Illinois sheriff convicted of on-the-job marijuana trafficking and a foiled plot to have witnesses against him killed while he awaited trial.

A three-judge panel with the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously spiked former longtime Gallatin County Sheriff Raymond Martin’s assertion that the punishment was unreasonable, crediting U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert with an “exhaustive explanation” of why Martin deserved harsh treatment.

Citing what Gilbert deemed was Martin’s remorselessness and betrayal of the public’s trust as sheriff, the appeals court on Thursday also noted Martin’s attempts to smuggle illegal drugs into the county jail after he was sentenced.

“In light of all of this, the (appellate) court found that any argument that the sentences were unjustified would be ‘frivolous,’” according to the appeals court’s ruling that drew cheers from southern Illinois’ top federal prosecutor, Stephen Wigginton.

“The people of Gallatin County deserved better, and Martin, for all his corruption, deserves what he must face,” Wigginton said in a statement.

It was not yet clear whether Martin planned to appeal the latest legal setback. Johanna Christiansen, who with Thursday’s ruling no longer represents Martin as a federal public defender, said Martin must decide his recourse.

Martin - a Democrat who had been re-elected sheriff four times - was convicted in 2010 after witnesses testified he supplied a drug dealer with marijuana, some pilfered from his department’s evidence locker, and threatened to kill the dealer when he said he wanted out. Investigators said the dealer let authorities record his conversations with Martin over several weeks because he was scared of the lawman’s threats.

Authorities said that after his arrest, Martin masterminded a scheme to have two potential witnesses killed. Neither witness was harmed because the would-be assassins got cold feet and told authorities.

Martin was sentenced to two life terms plus 10 years by Gilbert, who admonished the ex-sheriff as “nothing but a common thief and thug who disregarded the very laws that (he) swore to uphold, defend, protect and honor.”

But the 7th Circuit eventually threw out that punishment after questioning how federal sentencing guidelines were applied. Gilbert later gave Martin an identical sentence, telling the former sheriff he had only himself to blame.

While jailed in Illinois awaiting resentencing, authorities said, Martin illegally hoarded antidepressants in his cell. Martin had been prescribed two drugs, prosecutors alleged, but federal inmates are barred from possessing any medications and must rely on medical staff to give them supervised doses.

Martin was never charged with drug possession, though prosecutors cited that matter at the resentencing hearing in suggesting Martin had a deep-seeded criminal bent.

The federal Bureau of Prisons says Martin is serving his life sentences at a maximum-security prison near Tucson, Ariz.

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