Rayful Edmond III, the D.C. native who prosecutors say ran the largest crack cocaine operation in the nation’s capital in the 1980s, came one step closer Tuesday to release from prison after a federal judge decided that he had served enough time in his D.C. case.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan reduced Edmond’s prison sentence of life without parole to 20 years, citing Edmond’s nearly two decades of cooperation with prosecutors in other drug and homicide cases in the District and other parts of the country.

Edmond, 56, has been in prison nearly 32 years; despite the judge’s order, he probably won’t be freed anytime soon. He also has a 30-year prison sentence pending in Pennsylvania for dealing drugs out of a federal prison there.

In a 72-page decision, Sullivan wrote that Edmond’s “involvement in the criminal enterprise damaged this community deeply and resulted in the destruction of the lives of many individuals.” Still, based on the testimony of a prosecutor and law enforcement officials who worked with Edmond in his role as an informant, the judge said he balanced those crimes “against the unparalleled magnitude of Mr. Edmond’s cooperation.”

Edmond’s attorney Tiffani Collins said Tuesday afternoon that she had not yet been able to reach Edmond but that his family was “very grateful” the judge “took the time to listen to all the testimony and review all of the evidence and give Mr. Edmond a reduction” that reflected his cooperation with the government.

“This was a long time coming and well overdue,” Collins said. “Now the fight goes on. We still have to petition for the same in Pennsylvania based on his cooperation there.”

Collins said it remained unclear if the nearly 12 years that Edmond has served in addition to his newly reduced 20-year D.C. sentence would automatically apply to the Pennsylvania case.

“We will apply to have that time credited to his Pennsylvania sentence,” she said. “But it’s not something that happens automatically.”

In 2019, federal prosecutors shocked the city when they filed a court motion seeking Edmond’s sentence reduction, acknowledging that he had been one of their top informants. But prosecutors did not initially say how much of a break they thought he should receive.

Prosecutors later recommended that Edmond’s prison sentence be reduced to 40 years. Edmond’s lawyers argued that their client deserved a much bigger reduction, pushing for a new sentence of 15 years.

During a 2019 hearing, Edmond took the witness stand, and for the first time apologized for his crimes. He said that, should he be released early, he wanted to focus his life on spending time with his two children, his granddaughters, and working with at-risk youths.

“I am very remorseful. I am sorry for everybody I hurt, for everybody I disappointed. If I ever get the opportunity, I will do my best and whatever it takes to make up for all of my crimes,” Edmond said.

Sullivan ultimately decided on 20 years.

“Mr. Edmond’s decision to cooperate — and his lengthy period of cooperation — is an expression of genuine remorse. Mr. Edmond clearly provided above-average cooperation. Furthermore, his cooperation demonstrates that the need to protect the public from future crimes has lessened,” Sullivan wrote.

As of Thursday, there had been no changes in Edmond’s case in Pennsylvania, Dawn L. Clark, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Harrisburg, Pa., said in a statement. Clark has said her office would not be able to comment on whether federal prosecutors there were “considering” a sentence reduction for Edmond.

Edmond, however, could face hurdles in Pennsylvania. He already secured favor from Pennsylvania officials in 1997 when he agreed to cooperate in exchange for having his mother, Constance D. Perry, released from prison. Perry was arrested in connection with her son’s Pennsylvania drug dealing.

At a 2019 hearing for Edmond’s sentence reduction, Sullivan — a D.C. native himself — called the Edmond resentencing “the most difficult and challenging” of his judicial career. Sullivan has been a judge since 1984, when he was appointed to the bench in D.C. Superior Court, just as Edmond began his drug dealing in the nation’s capital. Ten years later, Sullivan was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Earlier this month, Sullivan, 73, announced that he would be retiring from full-time duty with the U.S. District Court and taking senior status after 27 years on the bench.

Edmond, who was convicted after a lengthy 1989 trial in federal court in the District, oversaw an operation that brought as much as 1,700 pounds of cocaine into the city each month. Law enforcement officials estimated that he was raking in about $2 million a week between 1985 and 1989.

The crack cocaine epidemic also contributed to the city’s rising homicide rate at the time, earning Washington the nickname the “nation’s murder capital.” Edmond himself was never convicted of any violent crimes.

After he and his mother were charged with dealing drugs while Edmond was incarcerated, he began helping the government. From 1997 to 2014, prosecutors said, Edmond’s cooperation resulted in the arrest and conviction of more than 100 drug dealers. He participated in undercover sting operations and testified as a government witness in trafficking trials in Pennsylvania, the District and North Carolina, and in two homicide trials in Pennsylvania involving inmates.

Prosecutors said Edmond also provided information in 20 homicide cases that had grown cold in the District. Edmond, who had used prison phones to participate in a drug operation on the outside, also worked with federal authorities within the Bureau of Prisons to overhaul the prison telephone system.

During a 2019 hearing weighing his reduction of sentence, Edmond — with his mother, siblings and other family members in the courtroom — testified that he thought cooperating with federal authorities while in prison was the only way, short of death, to leave drug dealing.

Prosecutors often cited Edmond as a lead player in the city’s crack epidemic, a plague that consumed many users, mostly African Americans, and led them to addiction, violence, prison and sometimes death. Many pregnant women also became frequent users, giving birth to underweight infants that were addicted to the drug.

According to court documents and testimony, by 1986, when he was 22, Edmond was living a lavish lifestyle. He would jet to Las Vegas for a Sugar Ray Leonard boxing match, make frequent trips to posh boutiques in Georgetown and New York and go on shopping sprees on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. He was known for being chauffeured around the city and handing $100 bills out of the car’s back window to youths in his Northeast neighborhood. Edmond built a dedicated following by giving District residents money for rent, medicine and other expenses, especially those whose families worked for him.

Authorities said his legion of street enforcers were linked to as many as 30 killings.

Edmond became a legend with urban youths in the District, and across the nation after numerous hip-hop artists referenced him in rap lyrics, and characters based on his life showed up in films and TV dramas.

In weighing his decision, Sullivan asked the District’s Office of the Attorney General to conduct a poll of city residents to determine whether they had any concerns about Edmond’s early release. In summer 2019, the government agency reported that 510 participants responded via online surveys, questionnaires at community forums and a phone line. Among those who had an explicit opinion about the request, 239 people said Edmond should be released early, and 243 people said he should remain in prison. About two dozen people were undecided.

Edmond has been in protective custody in the federal prison system since he began cooperating with prosecutors. His attorneys have said they expect him to remain in protective custody if he is released, and they did not expect him to return to Washington.

At the end of his decision, Sullivan criticized federal prosecutors for not seeking a larger sentence reduction for Edmond. Their decision was “perplexing” and “at odds with the rationale” of securing cooperation agreements from others convicted of crimes, Sullivan wrote. The judge added that Edmond’s cooperation also placed Edmond’s life, as well as the lives of his family members, in jeopardy.

“Cooperation benefits society at large by furthering law enforcement’s efforts to investigate and prosecute criminals, and it encourages others to do the same,” Sullivan wrote.