Casualties of the Drug War

Name: Douglas L. Gray Sentence date: July 1, 1992 Sentence length: Life without parole

Looking for enough grass to comfortably smoke and sell to friends, Gray — a Vietnam vet and father — traveled to the Econo Lodge in Decatur, Alabama, to buy a pound of pot. Waiting for him was the Morgan County Drug Task Force, which hired a recent jailbird to play drug dealer for a hundred bucks. Gray had a criminal record, but had never served jail time and had stayed out of trouble with the law for 13 years. One conviction for “trafficking in cannabis” later, Gray’s wife attempted suicide, while Gray himself spends his time in the maximum-security prison in Springville.

Name: Gloria Van Winkle Sentence date: July 10, 1992 Sentence length: Life

Caught with one-sixteenth of an ounce of crack in a hotel-room buy set up by an undercover cop, Van Winkle — twice previously convicted of cocaine possession — says police forced her into the deal that resulted in a life sentence. Van Winkle, a pregnant mom, on parole and trying to stay clean, moved into a cheap motel. It was an area, a county prosecutor told the Kansas City Star, where an incipient drug ring was brewing. “We wanted to stop it before it got going.” A detective posed as a dealer. Van Winkle says she was offered crack, didn’t buy, didn’t want it, and left the drugs behind. Police say she threw the drugs away, onto the ground, only when she realized it was a bust. “Outrageous government conduct,” said Van Winkle’s attorney, taking the case for appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. “The government created the crime and orchestrated it from start to finish.” Sentenced under a state three-strikes law, Van Winkle is the only nonviolent female offender serving life behind Kansas state bars.


Brenda Valencia

Sentenced on:

April 10, 1992

Sentence length:

12 years, 7 months

“Absolutely ridiculous,” is what Judge Jose A. Gonzalez Jr. called the mandatory sentence of Valencia, then 19, to 151 months without parole, for driving her aunt to a cocaine deal, and sitting idly by as the deal was consummated. “This case is the perfect example of why minimum mandatory sentences and the sentencing guidelines are not only absurd, but an insult to justice.” Without any priors, Valencia will be in her 30s before she gets out of federal prison in Tallahassee.

Name: Karen Horning Sentence date: April 5, 1995 Sentence length: 10 years

Caught up in the DEA’s early-’90s crackdown on LSD, particularly around the Grateful Dead, Horning was arrested making a delivery to a San Francisco hotel, and convicted despite a psychologist’s conclusion that she was incompetent to stand trial. Suffering “serious cognitive disarray” and lacking a “rational as well as factual understanding of the proceeding,” Horning’s case proceeded to trial without the psychologist’s assessment being presented to the judge. In prison, her health has deteriorated further — Lyme disease has left her paralyzed, and prison medicine does not stay current with advances in modern health care.

Name: Jim Montgomery Sentenced on: April 9, 1992 Sentence length: Life plus 16 years

Paralyzed from the chest down, Montgomery used marijuana to control his muscle spasms; Oklahoma police said the 2 ounces confiscated from his wheelchair pouch was incontrovertible proof that Montgomery dealt drugs. His lawyer charges that ulterior motives fueled his prosecution — namely, police wanted to convert his property into a station, but the Montgomerys would not sell. However, because the wheelchair was inside his house, the Beckham County prosecutor filed forfeiture papers. (The request was denied under a now expunged Oklahoma law that excepted homesteader property from seizure.) Montgomery was released in 1995 for health reasons after spending 11 months inside during 1992 and being returned to prison after his appeal was denied.


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