While sentencing Pedro Gutierrez to 20 years in federal prison Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney of Charlotte told him he was astounded and frightened by what Gutierrez had already managed to do inside prison.
Gutierrez has lived for more than two decades in New York state prisons, rising to the top leadership role in the United Blood Nation gang and directing crime all over the East Coast, including in North Carolina, prosecutors said.
“We have to do more than just incarcerate you,” Whitney said. “We have to incapacitate you.”
The judge added that he would like to sentence 45-year-old Gutierrez to a longer sentence, up to life in prison, but the maximum sentence for racketeering conspiracy is limited to 20 years.
Gutierrez’s gang associate James Baxton was sentenced earlier in the afternoon. Whitney ruled that, like Gutierrez, Baxton will begin serving a 20-year sentence immediately after his current prison term.
Baxton and Gutierrez each have family in the Bronx, and Baxton will be allowed to stay in a prison reasonably close to New York City, Whitney said.
But Whitney recommended that Gutierrez go to ADX Florence, the federal supermax prison in Colorado. The prison houses some of the country’s most notorious inmates, including top gang leaders and several men convicted of involvement in terrorist attacks.
Gutierrez appeared calm and relaxed until Whitney invited him to address the court. Through visibly intense emotion that held the rest of the courtroom still and silent, he squeezed out a few sentences.
He maintained his innocence and said he wanted to get out of prison to spend time with his mother, whom he calls every night, according to his lawyer, Brett Wentz.
At the end of the sentencing process, Whitney told each man he had the right to an appeal. Gutierrez interrupted at that point, telling the clerk of court he wanted to file a request for an appeal right away.
Then he asked to read something he had written about the trial. Whitney told him that time had passed. Gutierrez said he’d been too emotional to read it at the right time.
The two men debated the issue for a few minutes. Gutierrez moved his chained hands up and down as he spoke to Whitney on the bench.
“I ain’t subject to the jurisdiction of this court,” Gutierrez said.
He said he wouldn’t be bitter if Whitney wouldn’t let him read it. “I’m not worried about you being bitter,” Whitney said.
While sentencing Gutierrez, Whitney said he was particularly concerned that the influence of Bloods members in out-of-state prisons had reached North Carolina’s small towns.
Gutierrez’s move to a North Carolina jail for his federal trial presented its own problems. For security reasons, he was jailed in Cherokee County, a four-hour drive from Charlotte in the western corner of the state.
Wentz repeatedly told Whitney that the distance made it hard to communicate with Gutierrez, but he said Gutierrez had been polite and laid back in all their interactions.
Whitney told Gutierrez he could tell the defendant was charismatic and talented at getting people to like him.
“In your chosen profession of criminal activity, you are certainly at the top of your profession,” Whitney said. “But it’s something that you shouldn’t be proud of.”
Cynthia Gilmore, who was convicted of racketeering conspiracy alongside Gutierrez and Baxton in May, was also scheduled for sentencing Tuesday. Her sentencing date was postponed to late October.