• October 31, 2014

Obama grants clemency to Belton man

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Posted: Friday, December 20, 2013 10:39 am

President Barack Obama granted clemency Thursday to Billy Ray Wheelock of Belton, according to a White House press release.

Wheelock was one of 21 individuals who received either a commutation or pardon from the president, the release said.

Wheelock, whose sentence was commuted, had been serving a life sentence with 10 years’ supervised release and a $3,000 fine for several drug charges, including conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine, possession with intent to distribute more than 5 grams of crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school, possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute and distributing more than 5 grams of crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school.

He was sentenced on June 9, 1993, and his sentence would have expired April 17, 2014, according to the release.

Also receiving a commuted sentence was Jason Hernandez of McKinney, convicted on Oct. 2, 1998, of cocaine and methamphetamine charges.

All of those whose sentences were commuted or who received pardons had been convicted of major drug or other offenses, including armed bank robbery, bank embezzlement, or conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.

The eight individuals who had their sentences commuted had all been convicted of major drug charges and each had served more than 15 years in prison for drug crimes.

Congress in 1986 believed that crack cocaine was more dangerous and had harsher effects than powder cocaine, so it established the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. The bill was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

The Fair Sentencing Act Obama signed into law Aug. 3, 2010, aimed to reduce the difference between the amount of crack cocaine and powder cocaine that would trigger certain U.S. federal criminal penalties. It reduced the penalty from a 100:1 weight ratio to an 18:1 ratio and also took out the mandatory sentence of five years for simple possession of crack cocaine, according to an Aug. 5, 2010, memorandum by Gary G. Grindler, acting deputy attorney general at that time.

The reasons Congress gave for increasing the ratio and thus the penalties included strengthening federal efforts to get foreign cooperation to destroy illicit drug crops and stop international drug traffic; to improve the enforcement of federal drug laws and interdiction of illicit drug shipments; to provide strong federal leadership in establishing effective drug abuse prevention and education programs; and to expand federal support for drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation efforts, according to the Library of Congress. The bill was sponsored by Rep. James Wright, D-Fort Worth.

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