The prosecutor for Chester and Lancaster counties is outraged after a Chester mother and a Lancaster man linked to drug-dealing killers in the 2000s are among 98 drug felons who had sentences commuted Thursday by President Barack Obama.
Both Olynthia Lousie Hinton and Antonio Hood faced state charges, and had prior state convictions, for drugs before they were prosecuted federally, 6th Circuit Solicitor Randy Newman said.
Newman said that even though Obama and advocates for early release call the defendants non-violent drug offenders, drug trafficking under South Carolina law is a violent crime.
“Law and enforcement and prosecutors work tirelessly to target these repeat offenders, to try and provide safe streets and neighborhoods for people, and it is like a slap in the face when the commander-in-chief decides that he doesn’t believe in the way the criminal justice system handles them,” Newman said.
Antonio Hood of Lancaster was one of 23 people charged in 2002 when police and prosecutors said that drug gang ringleaders kidnapped video poker manager Melvin Steele and his wife, Rita, in 2000 after the group from Washington, D.C. invaded Lancaster to take over the drug trade.
Hood, a three-time convicted drug felon who was caught with five kilograms of cocaine and more than 50 grams of crack, was sentenced to mandatory life in prison after pleading guilty in 2005.
Obama cut the sentence to 20 years.
Newman, the prosecutor now, was a co-worker for years in that era with Melvin Steele. According to courtroom testimony, the drug dealers tried to grab $1 million by setting up a ruse bomb threat to draw police away. They then kidnapped and killed Steele.
“We would go up after work to the courthouse wearing buttons with Melvin’s picture on them,” Newman said of the brutal killing of Steele and the kidnapping of his wife.
Hood was never charged in connection with Steele’s death, but he was charged and convicted of being part of the drug network.
Hinton, who had been sentenced in 2005 to 20 years, now will be released in February, according to a list of federal prison defendants released by the White House.
Hinton, whose family had petitioned for her early release, was sentenced under federal guidelines after pleading guilty. Hinton was arrested Sept. 3, 2003, with 83 grams of crack, nearly 100 grams of cocaine, and scales, according to court records.
Before that, Hinton had a 1999 conviction for drug possession, court records show, in which she was sentenced to four months in jail with two years suspended.
Obama has commuted the sentences of 872 people, more than the 11 previous presidents combined.