Trotters are sentenced in cocaine case

Judge declines to give lighter penalty

? A judge declined Tuesday to make a statement against harsh crack-cocaine penalties in a drug-dealing case involving a former Lawrence High School basketball star.

U.S. District Court Judge Carlos Murguia sentenced former LHS standout Maurice Trotter to 14 years in prison for crimes including conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine in a school zone. His younger brother, Mardell, received more than 26 years in prison – roughly 21 for drug dealing, with five years tacked on for a gun charge.

The Trotters’ defense attorneys had asked Murguia to break from sentencing guidelines and give the men the lightest sentence allowed by law: 10 years for Maurice Trotter and 25 years total for Mardell Trotter, who has a past cocaine-dealing conviction. They argued penalties were already unfairly skewed to treat crack cocaine more harshly than powder cocaine, a discrepancy Congress has refused to change despite multiple recommendations from the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

“Drugs are drugs are drugs, judge. It’s absolutely not supported,” said Melanie Morgan, defense attorney for Maurice Trotter. “The court has the power … to say, ‘I agree with the sentencing commission.'”

Murguia granted the Trotters some leniency. For each, he imposed a sentence at the lowest end of what was called for under sentencing guidelines. But Murguia found that the case didn’t warrant a departure from those guidelines.

“Drug trafficking crack cocaine is a serious offense,” Murguia said.

The Trotters were convicted of distributing 56 grams of crack cocaine. Under federal law, that’s equal to dealing 100 times as much powder cocaine – a discrepancy that dates back to the mid-1980s, when Congress passed tough laws to respond to a perceived crack epidemic.

Morgan told the judge if her client had been charged in state court, he would be facing 68 to 77 months, or roughly five to six years.

“It’s hard for me to imagine how we could have one system that treats a person with a six-year penalty and another that wants to impose up to a lifetime sentence,” she said.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Terra Morehead told Murguia “this is not the venue” to debate the fairness of crack-cocaine penalties.

“That’s something Congress has enacted. That’s something we’re all bound to follow, whether we agree or disagree with it,” she said.

She argued that after Mardell Trotter’s first drug-dealing conviction, “he had an opportunity to do the right thing. He had an opportunity to change his life.” She also pointed out that Maurice Trotter – who led LHS to a fourth-place finish in the 1992 state tournament – had previous felony convictions.

Prosecutors had sought at least 27 years in prison for Maurice Trotter and 35 years for Mardell Trotter. But Murguia deducted time from that after finding some of the allegations cited by prosecutors weren’t supported, including an informant’s claim that the Trotters threatened and beat him.