Judge Alexander Williams Jr. reluctantly sentenced Evans Ray to life under mandatory minimum laws, but Ray received clemency from President Obama.
When Evans Ray Jr. stood in a federal courtroom in 2007 after arranging a drug sale, a judge explained, at length, that he didn’t want to hand down the mandatory life sentence required by law.
“It is my desire not to sentence you to life,” Judge Alexander Williams Jr. said in his Greenbelt, Md., courtroom, according to transcripts. “I believe that the circumstances justify a sentence shorter than life. I further believe that there is some disproportionality between what you’ve done and the sentence of life.”
Ray, 47, a barber with a wife, four children and two prior drug convictions, initially refused to arrange the sale. He was a middleman pushed into the transaction by a friend who turned out to be a government informant, and didn’t profit from the deal. The other defendants involved in the sale received lighter sentences. Williams tried to sentence Ray to a shorter term of 27 years, but prosecutors appealed.
The conviction was what is commonly called a “third strike,” which can trigger a mandatory minimum sentence. In Ray’s case, a life sentence it would be.
After his sentencing, Ray thanked the man who ensured he would die behind bars.
“I have to own up to my own responsibility. The law says life. I’m not in agreement with it, not at all, and I know you weren’t,” Ray said, according to transcripts. “But I just want to thank you and the courts for at least trying.”
Ray now considers himself “blessed,” he said — he was granted clemency in 2016 by President Barack Obama. After 12 years, he is out, and he and the judge who gave him life are joining forces to condemn mandatory-minimum sentences.
“It had to be said,” Williams, now retired, said of his comments from the bench during a recent meeting with Ray at his College Park office. “It didn’t sit right in my stomach.”
Ray, meanwhile, is adjusting to a life he thought he would never return to. Now 57, he is living with his parents in Prince George’s County, getting to know his children, holding down a job and speaking out against the law that sought to keep him behind bars for life.
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