Cody Ellerman should not have been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison upon being convicted in 2004 of illegal gun possession, a panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2014.
The panel ruled then that U.S. District Judge F.A. Little Jr., of Alexandria, La., was wrong when he issued a sentence that Ellerman be imprisoned until 2023.
No matter. The appellate panel ruled that it would not modify the sentence, because Ellerman, who is now 37 and has been locked up for more than 11 years, missed the deadline for challenging the legality of the sentence.
In its opinion, the court noted how Ellerman was likely to take the news: “Ellerman’s frustration with his inability to obtain relief is understandable.”
At issue was the impact of prior convictions in Kansas that Ellerman had for selling marijuana there. The court ruled the drug convictions made Ellerman eligible to be sentenced as an armed career criminal. But the appellate panel ruled those crimes should not have qualified as serious drug offenses.
In 2006, Ellerman wrote to Judge Little saying that he wanted to challenge the sentence, contending that his court-appointed attorney had apparently failed to file that appeal and was now failing to respond to his inquiries.
Another judge wrote back to Ellerman a response that Little was no longer with the court, but that Ellerman could challenge his sentence. What followed were years of legal filings between Ellerman and officials, focused on whether Ellerman had challenged the sentence in a timely way.
In the end, the Seventh Circuit panel concluded that Ellerman had “fallen victim to the procedural complexity” but was officially out of judicial remedies, aside from asking President Barack Obama for a pardon or commuted sentence.
Even that is not going well for Ellerman, who wrote to Injustice Watch from a federal prison in Springfield, Missouri. He wrote that he had submitted a request for his sentence to be commuted more than a year ago, and awaits an answer. Documents he provided show that his first request for a sentence reduction was delayed, after a typographical error kept his email application from getting in the hands of the Department of Justice pardon attorney.
“I do not pretend to be innocent of a crime,” Ellerman said in his letter. “I have, however, more than paid my debt to society.”