Last December, very early in the morning, my friend and business partner in the Venus Theatre film archive, Dhymitruy Bouryiotis, was caught loading a hundred kilograms of cocaine onto a jet-ski operated by another of his business partners, Montgomery Hill. That this happened in the United States (less than a mile from the Canada/US border) meant Dhymitruy was taken to a US jail, arraigned in a US court, and ultimately sentenced by a US judge – a sentence that was handed down on Friday. So that’s why I was in Seattle, to support Dhimitruy, but also to see how these things work.
The hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. at the U.S. District Courthouse on Stewart Street, a new fifteen-storey tower across the street from where I was staying, at the Hotel Max. D’s sentence would be delivered in one of two top-floor courtrooms, which was fitting, I suppose, because the presiding judge was a Chief Judge, a 52-year-old Clinton appointee who, over the course of the proceedings, seemed more like a philosopher than a martinet. Indeed, that was to be the highlight of the hearing: the exchange between the judge and D.
The prosecutor began with a rather dry case for D getting 72 months (they speak in months, not years, at a sentencing). Her reasoning was based on D’s business partner being “first in” when it came to “co-operating” with the District Attorney’s Office. Thus, D should get more time, not the same as Hill, who received a “downward departure” sentence of 60 months. (For the record, the textbook case for a Class A felony like this is 10 years.) The prosecutor concluded by saying that, apart from cocaine’s destructive effect on families, the drug trade supports “crimes in other countries.”
As for D’s attorney, his defense was based on aberration: D’s crime was out of character, and there were mitigating circumstances that may have led him down the wrong path -- in this case, flying to LA with his longtime friend “Mr. Farina” to help drive a car back to Vancouver. Only after they arrived did D’s friend tell him that the purpose of their trip was to smuggle drugs. It was then that D’s attorney insisted that D’s role should be seen as a “minor one,” before concluding with a review of some of the letters sent on D’s behalf, one of which spoke of D's work with a couple’s autistic son.
The judge then asked if D had anything to say.
D described himself as a “passive person"; that when someone asked him to do something, he said yes. D rationalized this by saying that ever since he was a kid he felt that to say no to someone was to put himself in a situation where he “wouldn’t be liked,” and that being liked was important to him. Thus, when “Mr. Farina” asked him to smuggle drugs, he said yes, “because he asked me.” There was more – about ten minutes more – all of it gripping, poignant and true to his character, the same person I met many years ago when I too said yes to his suggestion that we buy the Venus Theatre film archive.
But the highlight of the day was the dialogue between the judge and D, a Q&A than went on for twenty minutes and featured questions like, “How do you separate your actions from the consequences of your actions? You make kind decisions, but when someone asks you to do something, you do it. So is there something else – depression, mid-life crisis?” To which D said, “You say no to people – they don’t like you. I don’t like saying no to people.” The judge then asked, “How did you meet ‘Farina’? D: “At a spiritual centre.” Judge: “What would you do in my situation?” D began an answer, but the part that stuck with me was this: “I wanted to teach. It didn’t work out, and it bothered me.”
From there the judge described a sentence he gave to another drug runner the day before, someone who started life badly, the opposite of D. He then reiterated that D had committed a “Class A federal offence,” and that he did not believe D played a “minor role.” He then reviewed the textbook sentence, before proceeding with a very fast breakdown of numbers and months and circumstances that worked in D’s favour, such as letters, the appearance of family and friends, and what I can only describe as a genuine interest in someone who appeared to be a very different person than those who usually stood before him. What started sternly ended with a look that I can only describe as a cross between curiosity and compassion. It was clear that the judge liked D, and perhaps that’s why he gave him 54 months, with the potential for “transfer treaty” (an opportunity to serve part of his sentence in Canada).
But it was at the end of his remarks that the judge gave D something that appeared to mean a great deal to my friend and business partner: that when D goes to his new jail (a minimum security prison) he spend some of his time talking to those around him, some of whom “have never had a kind word said to them.” I looked at D , and for the first time that day, his eyes, like everyone else’s in the room, were welling.