Federal judge grants release to Missouri man in prison for marijuana crimes

By: - June 25, 2021 8:23 am

Eric McCauley with his son, Ethan (photo submitted).

After spending 12 years in prison, Eric McCauley has been granted compassionate release by a federal judge.

McCauley, of Columbia, was convicted of four counts of marijuana trafficking and 26 counts of money laundering as part of his role in distributing marijuana in Boone County.

The nonprofit Weldon Project, which advocates for those serving prison time for cannabis-related offenses, and former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom filed a motion for compassionate release in April under the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform law enacted in 2018.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Stephen Bough of the Western District of Missouri granted the motion, writing that he found further incarceration “is not needed to reflect the seriousness of defendant’s crimes, promote respect for the law or provide just punishment for his offenses.”

The nature of McCauley’s crimes were serious, Bough wrote, but 12 years in prison is long enough.

“We are overwhelmed by the joy of our family being together again and by the support from the community,” McCauley’s mother, Ann, and son, Ethan, said in a joint statement.

Katie Sinquefield, a board member of the Weldon Project and daughter of prolific Missouri political donor Rex Sinquefield, said she was “honored to have helped bring his family back together. It is my hope that this case serves as a guidepost for other non-violent drug offenders serving unduly harsh sentences. While we are thrilled with this outcome for this case, we have a long way to go to reform this state’s and country’s criminal justice system and reverse the harm done to generations of non-violent cannabis offenders.”

When McCauley was arrested in 2007, law enforcement seized $224,663 in cash and found 240 pounds of marijuana in his Columbia residence. McCauley told The Columbia Tribune at the time that he has “never been more than a marijuana user” and the cash was a result of insurance claims.

The Weldon Project placed McCauley’s name on a list of 25 marijuana offenders sent to the Whie House in 2020 as part of a clemency campaign. President Donald Trump granted nine of the requested pardons, but not McCauley’s. 

Missouri voters approved medical marijuana in 2018. That measure was approved in Boone County, McCauley’s home, with more than 72 percent of the vote.  

Bough’s ruling reduces McCauley’s sentence to time served and he will begin a five-year term of supervised release.

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.