HELENA — In a highly unusual move, federal prosecutors have agreed to drop six of eight marijuana convictions for Christopher Williams in exchange for his agreeing to waive his right to appeal.
In addition, the government has agreed to ask U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen to dismiss the $1,728,000 criminal forfeiture awarded to the government by a jury earlier this year.
The agreement was outlined under a settlement filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court. In the document, signed by Williams, U.S. Assistant Attorney Joe Thaggard and federal public defender Michael Donahoe, they note that this agreement “constitutes the final and best offer to resolve this matter.”
Williams, a medical marijuana caregiver, was convicted by a 12-member jury in September after a four-day trial. He was facing a minimum mandatory sentence of between 85 and 92 years, due in part to four counts that involved possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Sentences for those counts, by law, had to run consecutively.
Immediately after conviction, Thaggard had offered to drop some of the charges, but they still involved a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. Williams rejected the offer, saying he was willing to spend the rest of his life in prison to fight what he believed were violations of his constitutional rights.
Under the newest deal, the federal government dropped convictions for conspiracy to manufacture and possess marijuana with the intent to distribute ; manufacture of marijuana; possession of marijuana with intent to distribute; and three counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime. His convictions for one count of possessing a firearm in connection with drug trafficking and one count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana will stand.
He faces a maximum term of five years for the distribution of marijuana charge and a mandatory minimum of five years — and a maximum of life — for the firearm-related charge.
Kari Boiter, a friend of Williams, reported late Tuesday that she had talked to him by phone. He was incarcerated at the time at the Missoula County Detention Facility.
Boiter says Williams told her it wasn’t easy for him to give up his constitutional fight, but as he navigated the complex federal penal system, it became clear that punishment was the only thing that was guaranteed.
“With the rest of my life literally hanging in the balance, I simply could not withstand the pressure any longer,” Williams said in a statement released by Boiter. “If Judge Christensen shows mercy and limits my sentence to the five year mandatory minimum, I could be present at my 16-year-old son’s college graduation. This would most likely be impossible had I rejected the latest compromise.”
Williams was a partner in Montana Cannabis, which operated distribution centers in Helena, Billings, Miles City and Missoula, and had a large marijuana greenhouse west of Helena on Highway 12. The four partners — Williams, Chris Lindsey, Thomas Daubert and Richard Flor — said they tried to set the “gold standard” for medical marijuana businesses after voters overwhelmingly passed legislation in 2004 permitting caregivers to distribute marijuana to people with physical ailments.
But under a federal crackdown in March 2011, Montana Cannabis was one of about 25 medical marijuana businesses that were raided, since marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 narcotic under federal laws. Williams is the only person in Montana to take his case all the way to trial.
Daubert, Lindsey and Flor all pleaded guilty to various marijuana possession and distribution charges. Daubert received a sentence of five years on probation; Lindsey is expected to be sentenced Jan. 4 and prosecutors have agreed to seek a sentence similar to Daubert’s based upon Lindsey’s health problems and limited involvement in Montana Cannabis. Flor, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison, died from health-related complications while incarcerated.
Since Williams’ incarceration, a White House petition to pardon him has received more than 27,000 signatures.
It’s unknown whether Williams’ sentencing hearing, slated for Jan. 4 in Missoula, will still take place on that date.