The criminal defense attorney for former Hamilton County Sheriff Billy Long said Friday he may appeal a federal judge's resentencing of his client, if that's what Long wants.
Attorney Jerry Summers spoke with the media outside the federal courthouse in Chattanooga after a nearly two-hour hearing that lopped three years off Long's 14-year sentence for extortion, drug, weapon and money laundering charges he pleaded guilty to in 2008.
"We still believe there's other basis for downward departure, but that was primarily what was held back in chamber, which was a secretive matter," Summers said.
Long already has served more than four years since his arrest, and with the new sentencing, ordered by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, his total sentence has been changed to 11 years and two months, meaning he could be eligible for release by early 2019.
Summers and Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Piper met in chambers with U.S. District Judge Harry "Sandy" Mattice for about half an hour to discuss sealed evidence and testimony before the public hearing.
"I'll wonder until the day I go to my grave, and maybe [Long] will, too, why he did this," Mattice said in the hearing. "It's not just the defendant I'm sending a message to; it's the community at large."
Piper declined to comment.
Summers said concerns raised in the closed meeting could be a basis for a further appeal to reduce Long's sentence.
Long participated in the public hearing through video-conferencing from the Federal Correctional Institution in Oxford, Wis. He answered questions "yes" or "no" while remaining seated at a conference table in a gray prison jumpsuit. Looking slightly thinner than at his 2008 court appearance, Long had a full white goatee and eyeglasses.
Mattice listened to arguments from both sides on how long he should sentence the former sheriff after recalculating his range to a minimum of 11 years, two months or a maximum of life.
The resentencing came after the appeals court's ruling that drug and money amounts used to calculate his sentence range were too high.
Originally prosecutors tied $525,000 and 26.5 kilograms of cocaine to Long through his extortion scheme. That amount of cocaine drove the higher sentence range, originally 14 to 17.5 years.
But Summers argued that the money and drugs were provided by the government through their reverse-sting operation and Long was persuaded by government informant Eugene Overstreet to participate.
After the appeals ruling, Mattice lowered the amounts to $10,000 and 10 kilograms of cocaine attributed to Long, which lowered his sentence range.
Long pleaded guilty in May 2008 to 19 counts of extortion, six counts of money laundering, one count of providing a firearm to a felon and one count of cocaine possession.
FBI agents started an investigation into Long's activities after learning from local pastor and funeral home owner Overstreet about his involvement with Long in an illegal campaign contribution scheme.
Contact staff writer Todd South at [email protected] press.com or 423-757-6347.