Judge says harsh mandatory sentence warrants Supreme Court review

A disgraced Baltimore police detective was sentenced this morning to 315 years in prison for shaking down drug dealers, but the federal judge called the term, which he had to impose by law, "inappropriate" and said it should be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Detective William A. King, 35, showed little reaction as U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz imposed the lengthy prison sentence. Almost as an afterthought, Motz ordered King to serve four years of probation if he is ever released.

In April, a jury convicted King and his former partner, Antonio L. Murray, on drug and gun charges that carried stiff, mandatory penalties required by Congress.

King was convicted of several counts of robbing drug dealers, which were considered armed robberies because King had a weapon -- his police-issued gun -- at his side. The first gun count carries a mandatory five-year sentence; each subsequent count carries a mandatory 25-year sentence, to be served consecutively, hence the lengthy prison term.

The officers became infamous when their names surfaced in the Stop Snitching video, an underground production that warns people against cooperating with police.

Both officers testified at their joint trial that drug dealers feared them. They admitted they stole cocaine and heroin to give to informants because they said their training endorsed it. Their own police department abandoned them because, they said, commanders dare not admit that cracking the drug trade means bending the rules. Murray is to be sentenced at a later date.

In a strongly worded statement at today's hearing, Motz told King, "This wasn't rule bending. You don't use your informant to be a drug dealer for you."

Still, Motz said that the U.S. Supreme Court needed to review the case because he believes the law has been misinterpreted in how the 25-year gun sentences are handed out. The judge said the 25-year penalties should only apply to those who re-offend after their first conviction. King, he said, should not have been required to face so many consecutive 25-year sentences within the same case, which is his first conviction.

King's lawyer said he plans to appeal the conviction and sentence.

The guilty verdicts and extraordinarily harsh penalty for running a renegade drug operation were a drastic turn of fate for King, the son of a police officer, and Murray, who had been shot in the line of duty and returned to uniform only to face a slew of public corruption charges.

Their superiors once viewed King and Murray as a highly effective team, selecting them to root out drugs in the department's new public housing unit. Jurors decided they were also ruthless partners in crime.

In court today, King admitted he had made mistakes, but emphasized that he had never fired his gun, nor intentionally hurt anyone. He reiterated that the rules he broke were rules broken by other officers who also felt the pressure to make more arrests.

Relying on hours of secretly recorded conversations of the officers, federal prosecutors spent almost three weeks presenting evidence that the officers robbed drug addicts in West Baltimore to reward their sources on the street and line their own pockets.

Prosecutors sought to show that King and Murray abused the tools of their trade -- badges, unmarked cars and department-issue guns -- by stealing drugs and money, distributing heroin, cocaine and marijuana to their informants and sharing in the proceeds when the drugs were sold.

The detectives countered that they manipulated their drug-addicted sources into thinking they were working on joint drug deals, all in an effort to collect information about some of the city's most powerful drug dealers. Defense attorneys described the officers as scapegoats inside a department that had been buffeted by the changing policies of several police commissioners in recent years.