BENTON, Ill. – A federal judge called a disgraced Illinois sheriff "the worst of humanity" Wednesday and sentenced him to life in prison for trafficking marijuana on the job and a foiled plot to have potential witnesses killed.
U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert sided with prosecutors in deciding that Raymond Martin should be harshly punished, admonishing the longtime sheriff of southern Illinois' Gallatin County as "nothing but a common thief and thug who disregarded the very laws that you swore to uphold, defend, protect and honor."
"You could have likely been sheriff until you decided to retire. But no, you couldn't stand prosperity, and your arrogance, greed and power got the best of you," Gilbert scolded Martin, who was booted out of office within days of his conviction last September of all 15 felony counts. "I believe in your mind your only regret is that you got caught.
"You represent the worst of humanity."
Gilbert appeared irked by the lack of visible contrition by Martin, who moments before being handed two life terms on weapons charges — and numerous 10- and five-year terms on the other counts — pledged to appeal, claiming more documents and witnesses presented on his behalf at trial could have acquitted him.
"Your Honor, I come before you today not claiming to be no angel but can assure you I'm not the man prosecutors are trying to portray me as," Martin, 48, told Gilbert, denying he ever schemed to have anyone killed.
Gilbert found Martin beyond the pale.
"In all my years as a judge, I have never seen a criminal case where the evidence of guilt was so overwhelming," the judge told Martin, whose marijuana-trafficking while on duty — often involving pot he pilfered from his department's evidence locker — was surveilled by investigators by plane and on the ground.
Gilbert also fined Martin $50,000 and swatted down the man's request to be allowed free while he appealed.
Martin, a Democrat who had been re-elected four times, has been jailed since May 2009, when federal agents hauled him off from his office in Shawneetown on marijuana-dealing charges. Despite that and his subsequent behind-bars plotting to kill witnesses, Martin clung to his job and still got his $40,000-a-year salary until the county fired him after his conviction, ending his nearly 20-year run as sheriff.
Though Martin had the legal right to keep his job pending trial, federal prosecutor Jim Cutchin argued Wednesday that Martin's stepping down would have been the morally right thing to do. While jailed, county records show, Martin collected $68,087 in salary and benefits from the cash-strapped, drug-plagued county, along with a roughly $4,200 state stipend.
Martin's attorney, John O'Gara, asked Gilbert for a 30-year term, calling that "sufficient but not greater than necessary to punish him."
"You do not need to sign a piece of paper to consign him to death in the Bureau of Prisons," O'Gara pressed, insisting Martin "has a great capacity for caring" and should be spared a life term.
Martin's attorney and prosecutors agreed that he would forfeit to the U.S. government his home — valued at more than $200,000 — and more than $75,000 in other assets. When arrested, investigators said, Martin had nearly $105,000 in cash in his basement safe and $19,000 in his then-wife's workplace safe.
A Drug Enforcement Administration agent has alleged that Martin supplied a drug dealer, then threatened to kill him when the man said he wanted out, saying making him disappear would be easy. The then-sheriff also pressured the dealer by saying he could make up a crime against him and pledged to use his power to shut down rival dealers, prosecutors said.
Investigators said the dealer let authorities record his conversations with Martin over several weeks because he was scared of the lawman's threats.
Authorities alleged that even after Martin was jailed on drug counts, he masterminded a scheme to have two potential witnesses assaulted and possibly killed. None of those witnesses ultimately was harmed.
Authorities said Martin enlisted his then-wife, Kristina Martin, 37, and 21-year-old son Cody Martin in the plot in which two cellmates were offered as much as $17,000 to kill the witnesses — even supplying them with a detailed map to the targets' homes. Raymond and Kristina Martin since have divorced.
"Words cannot adequately describe how despicable it was for what you did to your son, Cody," who testified against his father at trial, Gilbert told Martin. "Animals protect their young more than you did yours."
Witnesses testified that the alleged plot unraveled when one of the two would-be hit men got cold feet and reported the plan to authorities.
"His conduct is utterly reprehensible by any standard known to law enforcement or anyone in Illinois who pays his salary," said Steve Wigginton, southern Illinois' U.S. attorney.
The sheriff's wife and son pleaded not guilty to Jackson County murder-solicitation charges. Kristina Martin's trial is scheduled to begin Monday; no trial date has been set for Cody Martin.
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