|by Martha E. Ture, NAV Feature Writer
[January 29, 2003] She has a lovely voice.
Radmilla Cody, winner of the 2002 Native American Music Awards Best Female Artist for her CD “Seed of Life”, 1998 Miss Navajo Nation, singer of the national anthem at Kennedy Space Center as the space shuttle launched the first American Indian into space in November, is gifted with a stunningly unique, clear, voice. Her career was at a peak when, on January 6, 2003, she began serving her sentence in federal prison in Phoenix, Arizona. In a March 2002 agreement with prosecutors, she pled guilty to one count of “misprison of a felony” ‹ failing to report a felony in which she was involved.
“I am of the Red Bottom people,” Cody said in her March 1998 speech to the Miss Navajo Nation judges, “born for African American.” But Federal prosecutors saw her as a minor player in a drug trafficking operation. She was charged with wiring $1,000 to her boyfriend in Las Vegas, Nevada, in September 1998, knowing that he planned to use the money to sell marijuana. He also was one of 16 people indicted in July 2001 in a federal case that originated in Oklahoma.
Under the plea agreement, Cody admitted that she knew “of the actual commission of the felony offense of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, and I concealed this knowledge by not making it known” to authorities. “At the time, I knew it was against the law for me to commit these acts,” she said in the plea. “Some of the marijuana involved was distributed in the Northern District of Oklahoma.”
It was a bad blow to the Navajo nation. Miss Navajo Nation must exemplify the essence and characters of the Navajo deities First Woman, White Shell Woman and Changing Woman. Because she represents womanhood and the roles of grandmother, mother, aunt and sister to the Navajo people, she must be an exemplar, knowledgeable in Navajo history, culture, values and tradition. The 1998 judges found Cody the best overall in traditional technologies, butchering sheep, fileting the mutton, wrapping achee, carding and spinning, making tortillas, contemporary public speaking, traditional public speaking, fluency in English and Navajo, appearance, attitude, bearing and conduct.
Issue of race
Though, the press referred to her as “biracial,” the judges made no mention of her race during the contest. Race is a euroamerican construct. But some Navajo people attacked Cody anyway.
“Miss Cody’s appearance and physical characteristics are clearly black, and are thus representative of another race of people,” wrote Orlando Tom of Blue Gap, Arizona, in the Albuquerque Journal. “. . .Miss Cody should focus on her African American heritage and stay out of Navajo affairs.”
“Ethnic blood cleansing has no place in Navajo society, because the Navajo way teaches that beauty is everywhere,” said Daphne Thomas of Leupp, Arizona.
Cody said she entered the contest in order to make a statement that “bi-racial people should not be judged as half of anything. I went into this competition with a goal, that not only was I going to open eyes, but I was going to open doors.”
Clearly, race was an issue to some members of the Navajo community, and as it is everywhere, it was a source of endangerment, not endearment or beauty.
Cody’s singing career took off, but the seeds of downfall were growing even in 1998, the year of her reign. The event for which she was indicted took place in September of that year, while Cody was with her now ex-boyfriend, Darrell Dwight Bellamy.
Until his arrest in June 2002, Bellamy, a black man, was on the U.S. Marshal’s list of 15 most wanted criminals, for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and heading a major drug organization, based in Phoenix, which distributed more than 150 kilograms of cocaine to several states since 1993. He was charged with engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, which carries a mandatory life sentence. “He should be considered ARMED AND DANGEROUS,” his Wanted poster warned.
Apology and support
In a letter to the Navajo people published in December 2002 in the Navajo Times, Cody apologized for being involved in an “abusive six-year relationship” that she said she tried unsuccessfully to ease out of. Her letter did not mention the indictment or plea bargain.
The letters to the editor that followed news of her indictment and plea bargain showed dismay, outrage at the sentencing, and support for Cody and her family.
Writing in the Navajo Times, Freelancer Dave Stephenson said “First, she suffered severe abuse at the hands of a boyfriend who purportedly ran a major narcotics ring, clobbered rivals, and tortured with scalding oil those who dared to provoke him. Now, she’s experiencing an even worse form of domestic violence perpetrated by the U.S. government’s so-called “justice” system…Cody was given 21 months in federal prison for “misprision [sic] of a felony,” an obscure statute that authorizes the imposition of harsh penalties upon those who were ostensibly aware of illegal activity and failed to put an end to or report it to authorities. Cody was subjected to the fairly recent judicial convention of penalizing someone for what they didn’t say or “should have” said, a practice that fails to meet long-standing legal criteria regarding a defendant’s ability to form intent and incur criminal liability…”
Well, not exactly.
“It turns out Cody has long known what her boyfriend was up to but never did anything about it,” one newspaper reported. “Because she never told police she is now going to prison for 21 months.”
That’s also inaccurate, or, in the vernacular, bunk.
Cody’s a beneficiary, in this case, of federal guideline sentencing.
Federal guideline sentencing is a cookbook. You can find the cookbook online at http://fpd.home.texas.net/intro5.pdf.
Before the advent of the sentencing guidelines, federal trial courts had broad sentencing discretion. The Sentencing Reform Act took effect November 1, 1987.. Under guideline sentencing, the courts have lost discretion ‹ sentence is cemented within a guideline range.
Here’s how you make a guideline range. You have an offense level, to which the cookbook assigns a number, and a criminal history, to which the cookbook assigns a number. The two values, offense level and criminal history, form the X and Y axes of a chart, called the sentencing table. Together, they give the sentence under the guideline, expressed in months. Never busted before, caught dealing a thousand dollars’ worth of pot = what sentence? The judge can look it up in the cookbook; so can we.
The federal drug statutes provide two types of mandatory minimum sentences. One is based on criminal history. For defendants who have previously been convicted of drug offenses, the statute establishes increasing minimum sentences, up to life imprisonment. The other type of mandatory minimum is based on the amount involved. For certain drugs in certain quantities, minimum sentences of 5 or 10 years’ imprisonment are prescribed. Courts are required to “impose a sentence of the kind, and within the range” specified in the applicable guideline.
Federal law authorizes sentences below a statutory minimum for cooperation. The court, on motion by the Government, may “impose a sentence below a level established by statute as a minimum sentence so as to reflect a defendant’s substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense.”
In other words, Radmilla Cody was pressured to help bring down her ex boyfriend in exchange for a lighter sentence, under a different statute. If she did not produce or cooperate, she would have to be sentenced under the drug guidelines, maybe giving up five years of her life.
The odds are that the federal agents had not monitored her phone conversations or her wiring of funds to Bellamy; that through her legal counsel, she offered this event as a basis for the much lighter “misprison of a felony” charge, which does not fall under the strict X-Y axis of the drug charges.
The road ahead
Cody got off light, in a political atmosphere tightly wired against anything labeled “drugs.” It may even be that this was the best way to get Bellamy out of her life forever. His charges carry a mandatory life sentence. Guideline sentencing does not allow for parole. If he ever does get out, odds are he’d seek vengeance.
But the catbird seat is not new to Cody. What is new is that her expectations of the road ahead may now be unrealistic.
“Walk in beauty and with “Mother Earth,” Millie! I hope these words encourage and give you strength through the 21 months of boarding school life … bless you,” wrote Danny H. Victor of Crownpoint, New Mexico Department of Behavioral Health. Note to Mr. Victor: Federal prison is not a boarding school.
“My music career hasn’t ended,” Cody said in December. “It’s only going to get better and stronger. So I have a lot of time to write some more songs.”
That’s not a typical schedule or forecast for federal prison inmates. Cody isn’t typical, but her stunning voice and her life performance will be severely limited now. We hope she will rise from this ordeal singing like a lark in the morning.
Readers who wish to write to Cody can address their letters to:
Radmilla Cody, 08980-062