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Utah family hopeful for changes in prison reform

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Posted at 9:57 PM, Aug 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-13 00:10:42-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah man serving 55 years in federal prison for drug charges underscores the injustice of a mandatory minimum sentence, according to his family.

In lieu of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that changes will be made to the sentencing process, the family of Weldon Angelos said they are hopeful he will see justice.

“There are all these murderers that go to prison for like 20 years and they get out,” said his sister, Lisa Angelos. “There are rapists and terrorists that get less time than him. To me, still to this day, I can’t quite understand why he got 55 years for marijuana. Like, it makes absolutely no sense to me,”

At 25 years old and a father of three, Angelos was sentenced to 55 years in prison in 2004, the mandatory minimum, for selling marijuana while supposedly carrying a gun.

“I mean it was the most horrifying news I’ve ever heard in my life,” said Angelos. “And I feel like I’ve been mourning Weldon since then. You know, like a death. It wasn’t he just went away to prison. He’s gone.”

His family has been fighting to get him out ever since, with no success, but Angelos is hopeful after learning of Holder’s announcement on Monday.  During a speech at the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates in San Francisco, Holder said the Justice System will no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenders.

“To treat somebody the same as a kingpin, with a small amount of drugs, I think is a problem,” said Salt Lake City based defense attorney, Clayton Simms.

According to Simms, the move will make the justice system fairer for people in the future.

“We’re talking about a low level, non-violent drug offense. They should not be spending that long stint in prison,” said Simms.

At the time of Angelos’ sentencing, the judge presiding over the hearing expressed his own concern about the severity of the penalty; pointing out more serious offenses did not receive such harsh punishments.

“He couldn’t do anything but sentence that person,” said Simms. “So, he couldn’t do what he felt was the right thing, which a judge shouldn’t be in that position.”

While Angelos’ appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in 2006, his family hopes the changes could help his case.

“He’s doing OK, surprisingly, OK,” said Angelos. “It’s hard and he has his moments, but he keeps fighting and he’ll never give up.”