Bath man in prison longer for refusing black cellmate

Posted May 25, 2012, at 12:19 p.m.
Last modified May 25, 2012, at 7:36 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A Bath man who refused to share a cell with a black man and flooded his cell at the Cumberland County Jail while being held on federal drug and gun charges was sentenced Thursday to nearly 11 years in prison.

John Byrd III, 23, pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, use of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime and possession of a firearm by an individual subject to a protection order.

Because of Byrd’s repeated violation of the jail’s rules, U.S. District Judge George Singal did not impose the standard lesser sentence that applies when a defendant pleads guilty, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig M. Wolff said Friday.

Under the federal sentencing guidelines, Byrd would have faced two to 3½ fewer years behind bars if the judge had not denied the defendant’s acceptance of responsibility.

Wolff recommended that Singal deny Byrd the lesser sentence that is imposed in a majority of federal cases in which a defendant pleads guilty.
Attached to his sentencing memorandum, the federal prosecutor filed 20 pages of documents that outlined Byrd’s refusals to cooperate with jail personnel. The end result was that Byrd was moved from the medium to the maximum security section of the jail.

Byrd faced up to 10 years on the conspiracy and gun possession charges.
The using a firearm during a drug trafficking crime count carried a mandatory consecutive minimum of seven years to a maximum of life in prison.

Singal sentenced Byrd to three years and 10 months in prison on the drug charge and an additional seven years on the gun charge as it related to the drug conspiracy.

Byrd, Joseph Holland, 25, of Bath and two juvenile males, ages 12 and 16, attempted on Aug. 13 to rob a woman and her boyfriend of Vicodin instead of buying it as they had arranged to, according to court documents.

Information about whether the juveniles were charged in connection with the incident was not available late Friday.

The woman and her boyfriend went to report the incident to the Bath Police Department but fudged the story a bit, saying they were trying to buy “a small amount of marijuana” from Byrd, not sell him painkillers.

“Byrd confronted her about not coming alone and started saying, ‘Where’s my gun? Where’s my gun?’” the complaint said. “She said another person came out of the bushes and pointed a gun directly at [her boyfriend's] head. She stated she was scared and ran away.”

A Sagadahoc deputy sheriff went to the house where Byrd and Holland were living, according to court documents, and hid in a neighbor’s yard so he could observe the comings and goings at the men’s residence. He allegedly heard people talking about a gun being stolen and the sound of a gun being cocked and dry-fired, that is, fired without ammunition in the chamber.

Officers knocked on the door in an attempt to arrest Byrd, but he would not come outside, according to the complaint. After an hour, Byrd and several other people, including two juveniles, came out of the house. Byrd was arrested.

While conducting a sweep of the residence, officers found Holland hiding inside and a .44-caliber, semi-automatic rifle.

Several days later, the woman admitted she had met Byrd to sell him Vicodin but left with it after the gun was brandished. She is not facing charges.

In a September telephone conversation with his girlfriend recorded at the jail, Byrd allegedly described the incident with the woman and her boyfriend as a “‘drug deal gone bad.’”

Byrd was prohibited from having a gun because the mother of his children had obtained a protection from abuse order, which is in effect until Aug. 6, 2012. Holland’s June 22, 2009, felony conviction for theft prevented him from possessing a firearm.

Singal sentenced Holland last month to a total of six years and 10 months in prison — a year and 11 months on the drug charge and a consecutive four years and 11 months on the use of a gun during drug trafficking charge.

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