U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen, in sentencing Williams, called him “a principled man, stubborn in his beliefs, [who] remains steadfast in his conviction that he has done nothing wrong,” reports Gwen Florio of The Missoulian. Of course, that will come as scant comfort to Williams as he languishes in federal prison.
In a September trial, Williams was convicted of four federal drug counts and four weapons counts for his involvement with Montana Cannabis, a large medical marijuana grow operation with a greenhouse in Helena and operations around the state.
After voters overwhelmingly legalized medical marijuana in 2004, businesses like Montana Cannabis sprang up around the state, but pot remains illegal for any purpose under federal law. Federal agents, sweeping across the state, raided many of those businesses in March 2011.
All the others charged in those raids — all except Chris Williams — made plea agreements with the federal government. Chris Williams stood his ground and insisted on a federal trial. Can anyone really doubt that his five-year prison sentence is a punishment for that?
Williams could have faced mandatory minimums of 85 years, 80 years on the firearms charges alone.
“It was my belief that an 85-year sentence in this case would have been unjust,” Judge Christensen said Friday. At his urging, an unusual, post-sentencing settlement conference was held, presided over by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, in which the feds agreed to drop all but one of the marijuana charges and one of the gun charges in exchange for Williams’ promise not to appeal.
That obligated Christensen to give Williams only five years on the gun charge (penalties would have increased for each additional weapons charge).
In addition to the five years for possession of a firearm while committing a “drug-trafficking offense,” Judge Christensen sentenced Williams to the 130 days he’s already served on the charge of possession with intent to distribute marijuana. He also gave Williams four years’ supervised probation on the drug charge, and five years probation on the gun charge, to run concurrently, and levied the standard $100 federal fee on each charge.
Many of Williams’ supporters in the courtroom wept openly at the verdict.
“He has done nothing wrong,” said activist Kari Boiter of Seattle, who described herself as a “full-time supporter of Chris Williams.”
Boiter was with a group of medical marijuana activists who traveled in a green school bus, the “Cannabus,” from California, picking up supporters along the way to Missoula, to attend Friday’s sentencing. The group held a short protest outside the courthouse Friday morning.
Judge Christensen recommended that Williams serve his time in the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon, so that he could be as close as possible to his 16-year-old son, a student at Montana State University.
Williams was taken immediately into custody.