Utah man given presidential pardon vows to continue fight for release of others in prison

Weldon Angelos was already a free man when President Donald Trump granted him a pardon, wiping out the conviction that landed him a 55-year prison sentence of which he served 13 years. Still, the news felt life-changing.

“I was very emotional to put everything that happened to me in the past,” he said.

Angelos said he can finally shed “the ‘F’ word” from his life. Being a felon, he said, often keeps you from getting jobs or even loans for a house.

I no longer have to carry that burden. I’m not branded a felon anymore,” he said.

It was Sen. Mike Lee who broke the news to Angelos in a phone call. Lee has been one of his biggest advocates.

Former Utah Judge Paul Cassell, who sentenced Angelos in 2004, was the first advocate for his release, expressing regret over the mandatory minimum sentence from the beginning.

Angelos sold marijuana to an undercover officer in Utah. He had guns, although they were not used to commit a crime. He feels that, along with the fact that he was a hip-hop artist on the verge of making a record, made him a target for prosecution.

On hearing of the pardon, Cassell said:

President Trump’s pardon wipes the slate clean and means that Mr. Angelos is now free of any constraints that stemmed from his previous conviction. It has been great to watch from afar as Mr. Angelos has turned his life around and moved forward in a positive way to try to help others.”

After advocates and a judicial order secured his release from prison in 2016, Angelos immediately began telling his story publicly and advocating for a change in mandatory sentencing laws that he calls “draconian” for giving harsh punishments to people who commit non-violent crimes, often tied to drugs.

He’s advocated for well-known entertainers and lesser known people like Ricardo Montes, the California marijuana dispensary owner who was convicted for running a criminal enterprise, then had his 20-year sentence commuted by President Barack Obama.

Angelos said it’s important to fight for celebrities because they help shed light on the systemic problems that unjustly send thousands of people to prison.

Angelos has been to the White House to advocate. He’s part of a broad coalition of criminal justice reform advocates, is making a documentary, and runs a charity.

He’s thankful to President Trump, Lee and Cassell for their support.

He says the work to reform the justice system is happening, although slowly. Many lawmakers are still hesitant to adopt proposed reforms because they fear backlash if people who are released reoffend.

Angelos says most of the offenders who advocates are fighting for are people who have been vetted and who should be vetted by judges. There is no evidence that if they are vetted properly, they will reoffend, he said.

“The majority of people who get a second chance go on to live crime-free lives,” he said.

He’s always lamented that 13 years in prison kept him from his family — including his two sons, who are now adults. He also lost his music career.

Still, he doesn’t look back. He spends as much time as he can with his family now, and he is engaged to be married.

Everything that happened to me is sort of a blessing. It’s given me a unique platform that allows me to help thousands of other people,” he said.

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