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Washington Cocaine Kingpins Denied Request For Reduced Sentence

A federal judge has denied a bid to reduce the prison terms of two high-ranking members of a "sweeping cocaine conspiracy" that devastated Washington DC in the late 1980s.

Senior U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth concluded the requests for early release are "unwarranted" based on the threat the men pose to the community and their roles as key players "in one of the largest drug conspiracies in the history of this city."

"The harm defendants caused to individuals and communities ... is immeasurable and in many cases irreversible," Lamberth wrote in a 16-page ruling released late Wednesday.

The requests by Melvin Butler and James Jones had been closely watched because of their involvement in the Rayful Edmond gang, one of the most powerful and lucrative drug operations in Washington at a time when violent crime rampaged through the city.

Thousands of prisoners have taken advantage of retroactive changes to sentencing guidelines, part of a broader push to reduce unfair or disproportionate prison terms for drug offenders. But at a hearing late last month, Lamberth expressed disbelief that those lighter penalties might apply to managers in a gang that deployed guns and lethal force to intimidate rivals.

The judge had harsh words for federal prosecutors in his ruling as well, pronouncing himself "surprised and disappointed" by the U.S. Attorney's decision not to oppose the prisoners' requests to get out early.

"It is puzzling to see the government shrug off the starkly violent and calculating natures of the underlying crimes as it allows the defendants' nearly exclusive focus on their post-conviction conduct to go unchallenged," Lamberth wrote. "The court struggles to understand how the government could condone the release of defendants Butler and Jones, each convicted of high-level, sophisticated and violent drug trafficking offenses."

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Washington said prosecutors are reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment.

A public defender representing the men noted last month that Butler will be released after having served his full term in 2017, and Jones is scheduled to leave prison in early 2018.

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Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.