Defense attorney Jerry Summers says Billy Long’s violent statements caught on tape are “irrelevant” to the issue of how long the former Hamilton County sheriff should spend behind bars.
Mr. Summers’ arguments are contained in a document filed late Wednesday, the latest in a war of words between the defense and prosecution as they try to influence the fate of Mr. Long, the former Hamilton County sheriff who pleaded guilty May 5 to 27 crimes, including extortion and money laundering.
The stakes are high since Mr. Long faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison based solely on one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. U.S. District Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice will deliver his ruling at a sentencing hearing Oct. 27.
Mr. Summers now is questioning the government’s claim that Mr. Long’s “bloodthirsty disposition” is the reason a maximum punishment should be considered. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Humble made public earlier this week transcripts of recorded statements he said demonstrate that disposition in Mr. Long.
“I just don’t want to put a bullet in your head,” Mr. Long tells a government informant, according to the transcripts. “I want to twist your (expletive) neck so your eyeballs pop out and the blood oozes out of you.”
Mr. Long allegedly made the statements in reference to what he would do to certain convenience store owners if they failed to pay him as the result of an extortion scheme.
Mr. Summers claims such statements made between Mr. Long and the government informant, now known to be convicted felon the Rev. C. Eugene Overstreet, “were simply locker-room talk.”
“The statements were made in jest,” Mr. Summers states in court documents. “These were neither serious nor credible threats towards anyone.”
That argument is vital to the defense’s efforts to convince Judge Mattice that Mr. Long qualifies for an obscure provision of the federal sentencing guidelines called the “safety valve.”
The safety valve gets rid of mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for certain crimes, provided a defendant has the right qualifications, such as having no prior criminal record. A defendant also cannot have used a weapon in the commission of the crime, violence or credible threats of violence.
Mr. Summers said that, during a phone call Wednesday, Mr. Humble admitted the government has “no evidence” — aside from the taped conversations — that Mr. Long ever used violence or threats of violence against anyone.
Mr. Summers also points out, as he has in the past, that Mr. Long’s possession of a gun during the drug transaction “was solely related to his job as sheriff” and had nothing to do with any crime.
The drug transaction, caught on tape in February, never would have even happened, Mr. Summers claims, if the government had not entrapped Mr. Long with a “ruse” created by FBI agents.
Mr. Humble, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening, maintains the gun was a part of the drug transaction, according to court documents, rendering Mr. Long ineligible for the safety valve provision.
“(Mr. Long) even mentioned the possibility that the (confidential informant) might have to shoot someone” to protect drug proceeds, Mr. Humble states in court documents.
Authorities arrested Mr. Long in February after audio and videotaped evidence taken during a year-long sting showed he had taken more than $23,000 in illegal payoffs from convenience store shakedowns and drug trafficking proceeds. He also was recorded giving a gun to Mr. Overstreet — someone he knew to be a convicted felon — and taking part in a cocaine transaction.