Johnston won the appeal, and the case would be retried. This time Johnston figured he'd try the case in Pettis County rather than have another go in Benton County with Judge Scott. Mittelhauser agreed to the change. But Judge Scott wouldn't let the case go — a rare occurrence, especially when both attorneys involved agree, Johnston explains.

"It really bothered me that the judge would not let go of the case," Johnston says. "He wanted the case because, I think, he wanted a second chance to sentence my guy."

Johnston adds that he tried to get Scott disqualified from the case, but the Western District Court of Appeals denied his request. The trial ended up being a repeat loss. This time the jury deliberated for just 40 minutes before finding Mizanskey guilty of possessing and intending to distribute the five-pound brick.

At the sentencing Johnston asked the judge to be more forgiving this time, arguing under the mistaken belief that his client faced a 30-year "life" sentence with the possibility of parole.

"I think that 30 years in prison for that is not fair and just. I would urge the court to find some lesser or middle ground in a range that's available to the court," Johnston told the judge.

Mittelhauser disagreed and pressed Scott to impose the life sentence.

"I agree that a life sentence is harsh and burdensome," Mittelhauser told the judge, "and I think that's precisely why the legislature has prescribed it as a possible punishment for someone who finds himself situated the way Mr. Mizanskey does with a lengthy criminal history and possession of a large amount of marijuana."

Scott sided with Mittelhauser and again sentenced Mizanskey to life in prison.

Today Mittelhauser remains the top prosecutor in Pettis County, and he has little sympathy for Mizanskey or Johnston and their claim that they didn't realize the sentence was for life without parole.

"That was the gorilla in the room," says Mittelhauser, who notes that Mizanskey could have accepted the 25-year plea deal. "He rolled the dice — and that's his prerogative, to go to trial — but he did, and this is what happened."


Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs was in full swing in 1989 when state senator Harold Caskey, a Democrat from the western Missouri town of Butler, cosponsored Missouri's Prior and Persistent Drug Offender law. In hindsight, though, Caskey isn't so sure that the law is a good one, especially considering Mizanskey's incarceration.

"I can't believe [life sentences for marijuana] was intended," says the 75-year-old former lawmaker who retired from the state senate in 2004. "Looking back at it now, I wouldn't vote for it. You see these states passing marijuana laws, and it indicates that marijuana is not as serious as it once was."

Yet Caskey wasn't alone at the time he sponsored Missouri's three-strike law for drugs. In the crack-cocaine hysteria of the 1980s, politicians across the nation were eager to display their "tough on crime" bona fides.

"There was a sea change in the way that the public and politicians thought about crime in the 1970s and 1980s," says Greg Mermelstein, a division director with the Missouri State Public Defender System. "These prior and persistent laws, by and large, were inventions of that era because there was a public perception — frankly, often wrong — that people were committing heinous crimes and receiving very short sentences. And as a result, there just became this tough-on-crime movement where everyone wanted to enact tougher laws to make sentences longer and longer."

No state agency keeps tabs on how many Missouri inmates have received sentences of life in prison without parole specifically for nonviolent drug offenses. Riverfront Times could find only three Missouri prisoners besides Mizanskey who are currently locked away for life without parole under the Prior and Persistent Drug Offender statute. And all three of those were found guilty of meth charges.

Although life sentences are relatively rare, decades-long sentences for small amounts of drugs are not because the minimum sentence a judge can hand out under the statute is ten years.

"One of the major effects of the laws is that it always increases the punishment," Mermelstein says. "And what happens is that, in individual cases, the punishment doesn't always fit the crime."

Examples include a man from the bootheel who earned a 25-year stint for selling $20 of crack to an undercover cop, and a St. Louis man slapped with a 15-year sentence for selling one rock's worth of crack.

Advocates for reforming Missouri's drug laws also point to the financial price of imprisoning nonviolent offenders. The annual cost to feed and house a Missouri inmate is about $22,000. Keeping Mizanskey locked up has already cost Missouri taxpayers more than $400,000. And they'll likely be on the hook for a few hundred thousand dollars more to incarcerate him until his death.

But to the man who prosecuted Mizanskey, the sentence remains just.

"I do not think the sentence is excessive," says Mittelhauser, who still remembers Mizanskey's case, even if he's a bit fuzzy on the details.

"Considering his numerous prior convictions involving the distribution of controlled substances and considering that he had a connection to, if not Mexico, at least the Southwest United States to bring in 100 pounds a week of marijuana to distribute, yes, I believe his sentence was a fair one."

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91 comments
el_urogallo
el_urogallo

I feel bad for his kids.  Why the heck did he not stop slinging weed after strike 2?  It should've been obvious to anyone that he wasn't cut out for that line of work.

Nathan Arnold
Nathan Arnold

That's because meth production has been so crippled that only the cartels are manufacturing for a profit at this point :(another bag of apples) Meanwhile, Hemp/Cannabis is such a potent economic force that any person who can grow a weed can create an in-demand product. That, in itself, is amazing. They don't want you coming up though, this is all a gamed-up law scenario that has enabled the ruling of class of corporations to dictate the punishment onto a person for a plant.

Nathan Arnold
Nathan Arnold

This is such bad press for pot prohibition, I love it!

Adela Falk
Adela Falk

thank you for sharing his story....just got off the phone with Jeff and he wanted you all to know how thankful he is ...... and to please call the governor..

Laura Dee
Laura Dee

Animal abusers get their victims given back to them, yet this guy, who hurt no one, is in jail for life. Our justice system is BULLSHIT.

Barbara Brown Lyon
Barbara Brown Lyon

But in my community, you can blow up your house with meth and get NOTHING! Maybe a slap on the hands.... Or if you play your cards right, you can get a local church to rebuild the house you blew up, give you clothes and money to restart your life, and no charges filed.

WeedBiz
WeedBiz

Missouri will likely see a ballot initiative in 2014 to legalize medical marijuana. Let's hope someone with some common sense that has the power to do something looks at this case.

modelhntr
modelhntr

I wonder what the prosecutor will say to God when he is about to be thrown into Hell "with no hope of parole".  Somehow I don't think he will think that a "fair" sentence.  People like him are the problem with this country.  He makes himself bigger, trying for the Statehouse, while walking over the bodies of the people he so overzealously prosecutes.  What a disgrace to the law.  Justice is supposed to be balanced with mercy, but mercy, compassion, common sense and impartiality all died at the hands of republican fear mongers under Ronny Raygun -- the actor, and then continued under the House of Bush.  As far as the prosecutor in this case -- maybe someone should lock him in a cell; place a banquet of food and drink just out of his reach -- and just walk away.  Sentence:  Life in the cell without the possibility of food.

queenofelbridge
queenofelbridge

This is an absolute outrage. I pray that he gets out and soon. Marijuana is the least of the world's problems!! Worry about something that matters.....this man's life!!!!

chatwithchuck
chatwithchuck

What a waste of good Nanny State money. We all know, marijuana is only dangerous if you're caught with it! 

This story perfectly defines the atrocities of Marijuana Prohibition.


Atrocity  (-trs-t)n. pl. a·troc·i·ties

1. Appalling or atrocious condition, quality, or behavior; monstrousness.

2. An appalling or atrocious act, situation, or object, especially an act of unusual or illegal cruelty inflicted by an armed force on civilians or prisoners.

generin68
generin68

As long as he has been in prison for his crime, Sedalia should be a drug free city. Well, its not.  Its probably worse than it was before this man went to prison.  These people that hold these offices and are suppose to uphold the law, only do so when it benefits them.  I am sure the one's who own these private prisons are making money hand over fist off of people that are poor.  I am sure there is a meth house on every other corner, if not every corner.  Let the man go, he is not bothering anybody.  He was not out harming other people.  He was minding his own business and making a living for his family. 

Jim Phillips
Jim Phillips

3 strikes and you are out was a knee jerk thing. It needs to be looked at, bunch this damn bunch in Jefferson City could make it worse.

Steve Podgorski
Steve Podgorski

blanket amnesty would not likely be the way to go.. but having a really really hard look at our incarceration policies and helping those that are clearly victims of it seems overdue at this point

Grant Martin
Grant Martin

Well there's another [fill in the blank] heard from: Our "lovely government" can tax, regulate, mandate and charge anything WE damn well tell them to. It's called a representative republic Victoria. Witness ObamaCare. Get back to school, understand our form of government then come back and comment accordingly.

Grant Martin
Grant Martin

Well at least here's someone involved. I'm not so sure blanket amnesty is the solution but at least it's a proposal.

Grant Martin
Grant Martin

Well folks, here's a reason we have these laws and ObamaCare.

Grant Martin
Grant Martin

Doesn't matter if you "buy into" the social contract or not. Violate it and find out what happens to yer ass.

Grant Martin
Grant Martin

Nope: He broke several codified laws supported by society, went to trial as proscribed by society, was judged by society and sent to prison by society. A travesty of justice is when the rapist/child molester/murderer gets off on a technicality.

Grant Martin
Grant Martin

Well if that "Book" includes committing crimes then be prepared to be judged.

Grant Martin
Grant Martin

Question: Did you get a second chance after doing something patently stupid but not illegal or did you get a second chance after committing a felony? Two different things. The felon get's a second chance after doing his time. If you don't like the sentence, work towards increasing or reducing it.

Rhonda Whelan
Rhonda Whelan

Why is it people have lost sight that he's a drug dealer? He wasn't some dude who happened to get popped with a joint in the ashtray. This guy had enough pot to sell to all the kids in my entire town. A drug dealer is a drug dealer no matter the drug. He's right where he belongs. They need to increase the time and punishments for drug offenses. Maybe that would be a start to cleaning all these trash felons off the streets.

Dave Noones
Dave Noones

No he could die in prison because (he ) broke a law. Many innocents have died during his days So don't feel bad for him. Change the laws and move on. Fuck him.

Grant Martin
Grant Martin

"If you can't do the time, don't do the crime."

Rhonda Whelan
Rhonda Whelan

"This is a story will make you re-think the state's drug penalties." No, this is a story that makes me aware that the journalist cannot write or speak correct grammar and nor can the editors. You are missing the word "that" between story and will. It's hard to take your articles seriously when there are blatantly poor grammar issues.

viscers
viscers

Really though, all non violent drug offenders should be released immediately.


The less time they spend around real criminals, the better. For us and them.

viscers
viscers

If you think law equates with morality and justice, I know a few countries that you might want to visit.

drewjord
drewjord

 but those technicalities are found in codified laws (procedural statutes) supported by society, proscribed by society, and constitutionally validated by the same judiciary you refer to. Either you support the law 100% or you can admit that some laws are bad laws. You think the law that lets a murderer go on a technicality is a bad law, because you don't understand the 900 years of so of jurisprudence and case law which have lead to the adoption of those principles of justice. I think a law that routinely over imprisons non violent offenders is a bad law because I have a brain.

modelhntr
modelhntr

You, sir, are full of shit.  Felons do NOT get a second chance anymore.  They come out of prison to a world of fear and hate.  A world of nearly universal background checks for every job.  Most people coming out of prison have nothing except the "gate money" some state give them to get to the next town from the prison.  This has become a society of labelers, putting everyone into nice little categories.  If you fall into the category of felon -- you better learn to be a better thief because nobody is wiling to give a second chance.


drewjord
drewjord

you suffer from the illusion that illegal and immoral are equivalent. Most crimes are both but some are only the former. We should only punish for the latter imo

Chevy
Chevy

Incredible myopic ignorance Rhonda.

Chevy
Chevy

You win the stupidest commenter here award. What a blockhead comment. We don't need people like you. People like you should be put in prioson. Alcohol and tobacco are the real killers. I dislike your attitude more than can be stated here, and you have extreme character flaw.

viscers
viscers

Firstly, you have no evidence he was selling to kids, you have as much evidence of that as you do the local liquor store is doing the same.


The war on drugs is a failure, it has destroyed far more lives, ruined jobs, families and communities than the drugs themselves ever could. This war has shown us that increasing penalties does nothing to help, it only causes more destruction. 
When you have a SWAT team bashing down people's doors, terrorizing their children, and murdering their dogs for a few grams of cannabis, (which happens today in this country) Tell me which is most harmful.

drewjord
drewjord

I detect so much crazy coming from you it's not funny. I bet you hear that often. This article is about how non violent offenders are routinely over punished, and this guy is facing life without parole for selling weed, or being with someone selling weed if you believe him. Doesn't matter if you do, how could you say that the time and punishments are too low? how is that even an option? People like you are the reason why America is the laughing stock of the world when it comes to criminal law and justice. I can tell fact checking is a difficult exercise for you, but do a very quick google search for the relationship between incarceration periods and drug offences before you open your mouth and make a fool of yourself the next time. If you were actually concerned for the chiildren of your town you'd advocate for regulation rather than criminalization.

modelhntr
modelhntr

You must be a cop -- or persecutor (spelled the way I mean it).  Probably drive drunk from the bar and then put down a guy for smoking some weed.  Pull your backwoods ass into the 21st century and look around.  Weed is coming in and hopefully, people like you will be going out.


Chevy
Chevy

This is just as idiotic as your actual opinion on the article. So typos are the focus here? Rotten. Everything you say is shameful and ignorant. Get a life.

flbartzen
flbartzen

REALLY THAT IS WHAT YOU GET OUT OF THIS STORY.....GET OVER IT THINK ABOUT THE REAL ISSUE. WTF? HOWS THAT GRAMMAR?.

parxjunk
parxjunk

"No, this is a story that makes me aware that the journalist cannot write or speak correct grammar and nor can the editors."  Hehehe, the irony is delicious.  The word "and" is completely extraneous and doesn't belong that sentence, and if it did it would require a comma.  Also, in the sentence "It's hard to take your articles seriously when there are blatantly poor grammar issues", you use an adverb (blatantly) to modify a noun rather than a verb.  You should have either used the adjective "blatant" or else referred to the author's writing, an action, as "blatantly poor" instead of the grammar issues, a thing or things.  Grammar Nazis are annoying, but hypocritical ones are downright hilarious... Thanks!  ;)

viscers
viscers

@parxjunk Take a bow.


Also, people who try to attack content of an article by picking at grammar are implicitly admitting that they can't actually refute the points of discussion made, or else they would have done that instead.

 
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