He was once the most feared drug kingpin in Boston, a prodigious cocaine dealer with a propensity for violence who went by the self-imposed nickname “God.”
But on Thursday, Darryl Whiting, 61, choked back tears as he pleaded with a federal judge for mercy.
“I’m sincere in trying to be, in wanting to be, a productive member of society,” Whiting said, wearing a tan jumpsuit and waving a prepared speech written on yellow legal paper. “I just want a chance.”
US District Chief Judge Patti B. Saris heard Whiting’s pleas to be released early from his life sentence in federal prison, but did not say when she would decide.
Whiting, who ruled Roxbury’s Orchard Park in the 1980s, was convicted for leading a drug enterprise that prosecutors said grossed millions. In 1991, he became the first defendant in Massachusetts to receive a life term for selling drugs.
Neither Whiting, his family, nor his lawyer thought he would have the opportunity to be freed.
Due to the tough sentences being imposed for drug convictions in the 1990s, the judge in his case had no wiggle room.
In recent years, however, criminal justice reform has resulted in sweeping changes in the way the courts treat those convicted of drug crimes. In 2014, the US Sentencing Commission changed the sentencing formula for drug crimes, allowing tens of thousands of inmates to petition for reduced sentences. Hundreds have been released.
Whiting also petitioned to have the new guidelines applied to his sentence. Under the new formula, Whiting’s sentence could be as short as 30 years, making him eligible for release as early as 2017.
Saris chairs the US Sentencing Commission and led efforts to reform the guidelines. But the judge is not bound by the changes and can also impose a sentence longer than 30 years, but shorter than life.
On Thursday, she expressed concern about a novel Whiting wrote in prison — years before he realized he could be released – that seemingly documents his story. Called “Takin’ It To Another Level,” it features a main character named Whiting who is released from a life prison term because of a change in the law. The fictional Whiting then takes revenge on former associates who testified against him. Some of the victims in the book bear the names of witnesses and cooperators in Whiting’s case. In the book, one woman had her tongue cut out for testifying.
“That’s troubling,” the judge said, questioning whether the writings represented Whiting’s “state of mind.”
“These are his words,” she said.
Federal prosecutors had supported Whiting’s request to have his sentence reduced, part of the US Department of Justice’s general endorsement of the national drug sentencing reforms, until they learned about Whiting’s book.
Assistant US Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell argued Thursday that Whiting should continue to serve the life sentence because of the terror he inflicted on Roxbury for years. Prosecutors had asserted in the past that Whiting had participated in murders, though Saris noted Thursday that previous judges found there was no evidence to prove those allegations.
Mendell argued that Whiting was not the type of defendant that national policy makers were looking to assist in reforming drug sentences.
“You can see he was an extremely dangerous, violent person,” he said.
Prosecutors submitted several letters from community members opposing Whiting’s release, including letters from Boston Housing Authority officials, who described the havoc he wreaked on the Orchard Park housing development.
Whiting’s son, Darryl, and his sister Sharon Dozier submitted letters in support of his release, and they and other family members attended Thursday’s hearing.
His lawyer, James Coviello, argued that Whiting has had a commendable record of good behavior during his 25 years in prison, and he sought out betterment programs even when he believed he would never be released. He said no one had even heard about Whiting’s book — and prosecutors had not opposed his release until they did — because it was nothing more than fiction.
Whiting laughed out loud at times as the judge and lawyers described the book’s accounts of witnesses retaliation.
“I had no intention, whatsoever, to do any harm to those people who cooperated with the government against me,” Whiting told the judge, adding that he was only looking to increase sales of the book, which was published in 2013, to raise funds for his son and family.
“We all know controversy is what sells,” he said.Milton J. Valencia
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