Elrader Browning Jr., convicted of running a vast cocaine and heroin empire in Los Angeles, was sentenced Monday to two consecutive life terms without parole and fined $2 million, one of the harshest punishments ever handed out in a narcotics case.
His top distributor, James H. (Doc) Holiday, a former leader of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang, also was sentenced to life in prison without parole for his conviction on two counts of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute it.
The two men, accused by the government of running a violent, multimillion-dollar narcotics trade that reached as far as Oakland and Detroit, were sentenced under a new federal law that requires mandatory life terms for defendants convicted of running continuing criminal enterprises.
"When Congress passed (that statute), it had a certain type of defendant in mind, and I think, Mr. Browning, you are it," U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson said.
Browning, 33, who represented himself in his jury trial in Los Angeles federal court, complained that the government selects "the bottom man, the little man, the minority" for its most vigorous enforcement efforts.
But Holiday, 46, said he would not argue against the sentence.
"All of it is poison. Alcohol is poison. The condition of society that produces people such as myself," he told the judge. "We accept this sentence and we stand in front of the court and say, well, like, see you next time."
The two men, both of whom had previous murder convictions, were accused of overseeing an organization that distributed as much as 80 kilograms of cocaine per month in 1986 and 1987. They also were accused of distributing lesser amounts of heroin.
Browning and Holiday were accused of the 1979 murder of two men who had been shot to death in what authorities said was a revenge attack prompted by a drug robbery. But a California Supreme Court decision effectively threw out the testimony of a witness who identified Browning as the triggerman and the charges were dismissed.
Holiday subsequently was convicted of the attempted murder of a woman who figured in the same case, and Browning was found guilty of firebombing a Pasadena home in another drug-related case. That conviction was subsequently overturned on appeal and Browning was acquitted in a second trial.
In the current case, Browning was convicted of 43 drug-related felonies, including sale and distribution of narcotics with an estimated street value of at least $20 million.
"We come before this court seeking equal justice," he said, surrounded by federal marshals because of his recent escape attempt from Terminal Island federal prison.
"We hear that drugs are rampant on the streets and it's an epidemic," he said. "But when I look around and I read about vice presidents and diplomats smuggling planeloads of drugs in, and no one seeks the death penalty or life without (parole). . . . The bottom man, the little man, the minority, the laws only apply to them, and in relation to that, I have nothing more to say."
As a crowd of onlookers filed out of the courtroom, Holiday urged them to "hold your heads up." Browning turned to his advisory counsel, Richard D. Burda, and wisecracked about his two life terms: "Does it count if I die and I'm brought back to life?"
"I think Elrader said it for himself. He talked about equal justice, and my question is, where is it?" Burda said after the hearing.
"Drug addiction is a consumer crime. It feeds on poverty, it feeds on ignorance, and people who are poor or ignorant themselves make a living off of it, which is what Elrader did," Burda said.
Assistant U.S. Atty. John Gordon, who prosecuted the case, called Browning's allegations that he was singled out because he is black "patently absurd."
"I think the government does a good job of being an equal opportunity prosecutive force," Gordon said, adding that the narcotics kingpin statute seemed ideally suited to try Browning.
"He was a kingpin type character who lived a lavish life style with numerous flunkies and middlemen to take the risk," Gordon said. "But he was not quite careful enough."
Browning and Holiday were originally indicted with 21 others by a federal grand jury. Seventeen have pleaded guilty to a variety of drug charges and four remain at large.