Two drug dealers who failed to appear in court last fall after posting "station house bonds" in connection with the seizure of more than seven pounds of cocaine at a Southwest Washington apartment have been sentenced to three to nine years in prison by a federal judge who said the men were "damn lucky to get such a light sentence."
U.S. District Judge Gerhard Gesell became visibly angry Friday as he sentenced Larry Blackwell, 35, of 11907 Autumn Wood La., Fort Washington, and Torrence D. Owens, 36, of 210 Seventh St. SE, after Owens said he sold drugs to support his gambling and that his drug dealing had not "hurt anyone . . . physically."
Gesell, who told the men that 85 percent to 90 percent of the criminal cases that come before him "have to do with drugs," lectured them sharply, saying that they were "just addicting other people" and that they were drug dealers only for money and not because they were addicts themselves.
"Our whole society is riddled with" drugs, Gesell said. "It's killing people's minds, killing people's hearts and killing what this country means."
Seventh District police officers who arrested Blackwell and Owens and who were in the courtroom Friday said they were shocked by the sentence, under which the men will be eligible for parole in three years.
Police estimated that the seized drugs had a street value of more than $1 million, although court documents listed the estimated wholesale value at about $350,000.
The men, who pleaded guilty to a single count each of distributing more than a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine, could have been sentenced to 20 years and fined $250,000.
There is no penalty for failing to appear in court after posting a station house bond.
Law enforcement officials said that under the current policies of the parole board toward drug violators, the men will probably serve five to eight years.
Gesell imposed a special probationary period of six years, which will follow any regular probation.
Owens and Blackwell were arrested Oct. 16 after maintenance workers at the Wingate House Apartments, 4660 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, discovered a cache of drugs while investigating a report of a water leak.
Each man was allowed to post a $5,000 station house bond, guaranteeing their appearance before a federal magistrate on Oct. 17.
But the men failed to appear after their hearing was postponed from the morning until the afternoon.
The incident embarrassed police officials and brought renewed calls for changes in the bonding procedure that had allowed the men, both described as major drug traffickers, to flee. No changes have been made.
Blackwell was arrested in an Alexandria apartment on Nov. 25, but Owens remained at large until he surrendered to police on Jan. 28, the day both entered guilty pleas.