Byron Lamont McDade had a powerful advocate in his corner. The judge who sent him away for more than two decades for his role in a Washington-area drug ring personally pleaded McDade’s case for early release.
On Wednesday, President Obama responded, and McDade is heading home to Maryland this summer — eight years before his prison term was to expire.
“He’s already served too long,” U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said after learning that McDade was among the 61 inmates granted relief by the president as part of the administration’s effort to roll back sentences from the nation’s war on drugs.
McDade’s relatives and attorneys had been on alert for weeks after hearing that the White House was poised to issue another round of commutations. They tried not to get overly excited.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said McDade’s wife, Tracey, who lives in Prince George’s County.
Her daughter shared the news through tears after reading online that McDade, 48, was on the president’s list. Tracey McDade said she is particularly grateful to Friedman, who had tried unsuccessfully in recent years to urge the Bureau of Prisons and the White House to reduce to 15 years what he said was McDade’s “disproportionate” sentence.
“This is Judge Friedman’s doing. It’s very rare that you get a federal judge who keeps on it,” she said.
McDade’s sister, Jeannie, was working the phones Wednesday, alerting family throughout the country and planning a gathering for her big brother after his release, scheduled for July 28. She had just sent McDade a package of books to supplement the information technology classes he attends in prison. Initially, she said, she hopes McDade will work with the cleaning business she runs.
“We’re going to have to take it one day at a time,” said Jeannie McDade, who lives in Southern Maryland. “I don’t know what we’re going to do except jump on top of him and tackle him to the ground.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, McDade had not yet spoken by phone with his wife or sister, they said, because he had run out of his monthly allotment of minutes to make calls from the low-security facility where he is being held in Pennsylvania.
At the time of his arrest in 2000, McDade was a 32-year-old father of four with two jobs. His one prior conviction was a misdemeanor gun charge for which he paid a $10 fine.
When federal agents came looking for him, McDade fled and was on the run for months before turning himself in.
“It was the dumbest thing I ever did. I didn’t know how to deal with the situation,” McDade said during a 2014 interview with The Washington Post at a federal prison in Western Pennsylvania.
McDade was convicted after a 10-day trial in 2002 for his role in what was then one of the largest drug conspiracies in the Washington area, one that involved more than 750 kilograms of cocaine. One of the ringleaders, McDade’s friend, had identified him as her bookkeeper — a role he denies, while accepting the jury’s verdict.
His co-defendants, who cooperated with prosecutors, were out of prison in less than eight years. Had McDade pleaded guilty instead of going to trial, he probably would have been sentenced to 14 years in prison, Friedman said.
McDade’s case haunted Friedman from the day he handed down the 27-year-sentence. He had no choice but to impose the lengthy prison term, he said, because of what were then mandatory sentencing guidelines.
McDade’s attorneys, who submitted his clemency petition about a year ago, said the process took longer than anticipated because of opposition from the U.S. attorney’s office. Prosecutors objected to McDade’s early release, according to his lawyers, in part because of the amount of drugs involved in the conspiracy.
The U.S. attorney’s office does not typically discuss its internal recommendations and declined through a spokesman to comment on McDade’s case.
McDade’s attorneys, Mary and Christopher Davis, received word from the pardon attorney’s office just before the list was officially released Wednesday morning. The office then arranged for McDade to talk with his attorneys from prison.
Mary Davis said she had been dreaming about getting such a phone call for the past two weeks.
“It’s the only dream I will ever have that comes true,” she said. “You could tell that he was so very thankful.”