Where to spend the holidays? Prison?

Court says no to compassionate release request for convicted murderer and drug kingpin in this recent case


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UNITED STATES V. BASS, 2021 WL 5099583 (6th Cir. 2021)

At our house, the holiday season always brings some tension over who will spend which holiday dinner with who and where. John Bass and his family also experience tensions, but their way of resolving them goes way beyond some friendly bickering.

Bass controlled a criminal gang known as the “Dog Pound.” Members of the Dog Pound distributed multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine base, and the organization regularly used violence to gain territory and solve conflicts. Joseph Chatman, a member of the Dog Pound, testified that Bass and his colleagues beat and tortured Chatman after accusing him of stealing money. “Bass and others shot him in the chest, doused him with alcohol and set him ablaze, and tortured Chatman with a hot iron. Bass commented, ’Let’s see what burning flesh smells like.’”

Bass fell out with his half-brother and business partner, Patrick Webb, in their crack cocaine business; they each continued their separate drug empires. In 1996, Bass hired Armenty Shelton to kill Webb so Bass could capture his brother’s drug business. A few days after Webb’s murder, Bass and another half-brother, Cornelius Webb, met with Shelton and killed him. Bass was eventually convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and cocaine base, and of firearms murder during or in relation to a drug trafficking crime. Bass was ultimately sentenced to two concurrent terms of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

In 2020, Bass filed a request for “compassionate release,” claiming that, as a 51-year-old African-American male suffering from morbid obesity, he faced a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Not surprisingly, Bass didn’t claim he had a track record of compassion and was now deserving a little payback. Bass presented the Bureau of Prisons’ risk scoring matrix that labeled Bass as a “generally low-risk prisoner and less likely to reoffend.” Really? The trial court granted Bass’s request and the appellate court imposed an emergency stay.

The appellate court ruled that the trial court gave little weight to the concern that Bass’s release might endanger the public. The court of appeals used Bass’s case to highlight congressional intent to shift the focus of criminal sentencing away from rehabilitation in favor of ensuring public safety. The appellate court remanded the case to the trial court to focus on public safety. The trial court was also directed to reevaluate Bass’s compassionate release request considering that Bass was offered the COVID-19 vaccine but refused it.

NEXT: Interrupting COVID-19 in jails and prisons

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