Mandy Martinson had never been convicted of a crime before cops raided her Iowa home back in 2004.
Martinson was a meth addict who helped her then-boyfriend count cash for his drug conspiracy. By the time her case went to trial, she’d gotten off the drug and taken major steps to get her life back together.
But Iowa federal judge James Gritzner sentenced Martinson to 15 years in prison anyway after her ex testified against her.
Judge Gritzner couldn’t show her mercy because of the 1980s-era mandatory minimum sentences for many drug crimes. She was 28 at sentencing and will be at least 40 when she gets out. Martinson says the possibility of not having kids is the worst part of her sentence, she told Molly Gill, government affairs counsel at Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
“We all have biological clocks that are ticking,” says Gill, who has closely followed Martinson’s case. “Most of us don’t have to worry about not being able to have children because we’re in prison.”
A Promising Start Marred By Addiction
Mandy Martinson grew up Mason City, Iowa, a town of less than 30,000 people. Her mother, Cindy, was a longtime bank teller at Wells Fargo, and her father Bill works for the city. Martinson got As and Bs in school, her mother told Business Insider. She went on to become a licensed dental hygienist and a home owner.
Martinson ate dinner with her parents every Tuesday, and she called her mum when she got home from work. Cindy Martinson felt blessed to have such a close relationship with her daughter. “We could talk about anything,” she told me.
But Martinson started withdrawing after she got involved with a man her mother described as “very abusive.” Under stress from the relationship, she started using methamphetamine in August 2003. Meth is an extremely addictive drug that initially causes a “rush of good feelings,” according to the National Institutes of Health. Meth use has been on the rise in recent years, including in the Midwest where Martinson lives.
Martinson eventually left her abusive boyfriend. She continued using meth, though, and even began dating a dealer who supplied her with the drug in December 2003, according to FAMM. (The dealer, identified in court documents as Justin Dana, testified he started seeing her in October that year, court documents show.)
“She finally got rid of [her abusive boyfriend],” Cindy Martinson told me, “and that’s when the other character came into her life and pretty much ruined it.”
A Weeks-Long Relationship That Ended With A 15-Year Prison Sentence
Martinson let Dana let move into her house shortly after she met him. Cindy Martinson met Mandy’s new boyfriend around Christmas 2003, and she says he didn’t leave a great impression. “I said Mandy, what are you doing? This is not the guy for you,” Cindy Martinson told me.
The two only lived together for about 5 weeks, Cindy Martinson said. Police raided their house on Jan. 14, 2004, when the two of them were in the basement, according to an opinion by Judge Gritzner. Police found “large quantities” of meth and pot, drug paraphernalia, a safe, and two handguns, the opinion said. One of those handguns was in the same duffel bag as Martinson’s purse, the judge wrote in another opinion.
After the raid, Martinson was arrested but got out on bond and started drug rehab. While she failed one drug test, she eventually got clean, and she began working again as a dental hygienist — all before her trial in September 2004. A jury convicted her, though, in part because of testimony from Dana.
Dana avoided a trial by pleading guilty and testifying against the woman he said helped him be a more “organised” drug dealer, according to one of the judge’s opinions. Here’s more about Dana’s testimony against Martinson:
He minimized Martinson’s involvement in the drug deals, saying, ‘They were my drug deals, basically …”; but he also testified she helped count money, transport drugs, and she helped him stay more organised in his drug dealing than he had been before they began dating.
The gun near Martinson’s purse belonged to Dana, but she had access to it and used it for protection sometimes, he testified. A jury convicted Martinson on the gun and drug charges.
‘Tough On Crime’ Drug Laws
The judge had to give Martinson the mandatory minimum sentence: 10 years for the drug conviction plus another 5 years of her life for “possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking scheme.”
Mandatory minimums don’t give judges any discretion in sentencing, and Judge Gritzner hinted 15-years was too much for Martinson. He said Martinson was mostly “subject to [her boyfriend’s] direction and control.” Judge Gritzner said he didn’t have any “particular concern” she’d commit crimes in the future, according to FAMM.
Dana, who said they were his drug deals, got 12 years in prison.
It’s not unheard of for leaders of drug conspiracies — essentially a group of people selling drugs — to get less time than their lackeys. Prosecutors often offer plea deals to those who can name others in the conspiracy, and the people with the names are often the bosses. Martinson couldn’t name anybody else because she was counting cash for her drug-dealing boyfriend.
“She didn’t have the information to trade for a shorter sentence,” Gill said.
Martinson’s meth addiction is the main reason she got involved in the scheme in the first place. By the time she was finally sentenced in January 2005, she’d been actively recovering from her drug addiction for a year.
“She was fixed by the time they even sentenced her,” FAMM’s Molly Gill told me. “She had rehabilitated herself … (But) the judge had no choice but to give her 15 years. That always broke my heart. It felt like such a waste of a life.”
‘I’m Going To Do Good When I Get Out’
Mandy Martinson’s mother and father try to visit her at her low-security women’s prison in Waseca, Minn. every Saturday if the weather is cooperating. They sit for the entirety of visiting hours — 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. — and talk or play cards. A corrections officer escorts Martinson to the bathroom if she has to go. Her mother, Cindy, says Martinson is “so well liked” at the prison.
Martinson was selected to be a companion for inmates on suicide watch. She’s teaching a class on “The Purpose Driven Life.” Her mother says she spoke to a group of high school students recently in Waseca about prison life and its lack of freedoms. She told the students that she’d essentially been wearing the same outfit — her prison uniform with steel-toed boots — since 2005.
Martinson’s sentence is technically set to end in 2020. Federal prisons typically shave off time for good behaviour, though, meaning she could get out by 2017. She told her mother, “I’m going to do good when I get out,” Cindy Martinson told me. Until that time, Cindy Martinson says, her daughter’s continued absence leaves a lot of “emptiness” in her own life.
“One thing that disturbs me is a person can go out and kill an individual and … a lot of times ends up with less time than Mandy did,” Cindy Martinson said. “The people that Mandy hurt were herself and her family. I am very disappointed in the justice system.”
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