Apr 28, 2017

Inmate argues religious duty to deal heroin; appeal fails

The Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A St. Louis man ordered to spend more than a quarter century in prison on drug charges has failed to have his prosecution overturned, despite his argument that he has a religious duty to sell heroin.

In an appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, Timothy Anderson did not deny he was a heroin dealer. Instead, he cast himself as "a student of Esoteric and Mysticism studies," saying he had created a religious nonprofit that aims to get the powerful narcotic to "the sick, lost, blind, lame, deaf and dead members of God's Kingdom."

Anderson insisted his prosecution on a 2013 indictment violated federal protections of religious rights because his heroin peddling was an exercise of his "sincerely held religious belief."

The trial judge last year summarily rejected Anderson's claims without holding a hearing and barred him from presenting his religious arguments to the jury that ultimately convicted him of conspiracy and of possessing heroin with intention to deal. On appeal, Anderson said U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel had erred.

The appellate court rejected his appeal Wednesday.

"We note that a reasonable observer may legitimately question how plausible it is that Anderson exercised a sincerely held religious belief by distributing heroin," 8th Circuit Judge Ray Gruender, a former federal prosecutor, wrote for the three-judge panel.

Gruender said the U.S. government has a compelling interest in prosecuting Anderson, who "has indicated that he will not stop distributing heroin under any circumstances, stating that he 'does not want to compromise his faith in any way.'"

Court documents and testimony during Anderson's trial alleged he was the leader of a network of dealers distributing large amounts of heroin in the St. Louis area. Nine other defendants either pleaded guilty or were convicted.

Sippel sentenced Anderson to 27 years on the conspiracy count and 20 years for drug possession, with the terms to be served simultaneously and followed by five years of post-prison supervision.


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