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Change in law reduces ex-drug kingpin's sentence

Roy "Pee Wee" Highsmith, once a major Buffalo drug baron, will be eligible for parole in 2035, when he is age 68, on the reduced sentence he received Wednesday as a result of the revision of the state's harsh Rockefeller drug laws nearly a decade ago.

Thanks to the combined efforts of attorneys Fern S. Adelstein of Olean, Joseph J. Terranova and Legal Aid attorney Timothy P. Murphy, both of Buffalo, the life term Highsmith received in 1995 under the former drug laws was eliminated.

Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk resentenced Highsmith, 44, an Attica Correctional Facility inmate, to a combined 40 2/3 to 98 years on his multiple drug convictions from the mid-1990s, when he reportedly controlled East Side drug trafficking with the assistance of his brother.

Terranova and prosecutor Amy B. Benedict said the state's appellate court last Dec. 30 sent Highsmith's case back to the County Court judge for resentencing because the jailed drug kingpin had turned down Franczyk's December 2008 proposed new minimum sentence of 35 2/3 years.

Murphy argued the case before the appellate court last fall. Adelstein successfully urged Franczyk in 2008 to reconsider Highsmith's life term in light of the State Legislature's revision of the Rockefeller drug laws in both 2004 and 2005.

Because Highsmith turned down Franczyk's 2008 sentencing proposal, the judge Wednesday made his minimum prison term 40 2/3 years under four separate combined drug convictions from the mid-1990s.

Highsmith, dressed in his prison green outfit, did not speak during Wednesday's resentencing. But Terranova, his latest court-assigned lawyer, told Franczyk that Highsmith had asked him to thank the judge for giving him a chance to be released from prison.

Erie County Judge John V. Rogowski sentenced Highsmith in 1995 to combined drug terms of 61 2/3 years to life under the old drug law and denounced the former drug kingpin for being a braggart who no longer owned any city streets.

What police and prosecutors two decades ago described as High-smith's drug empire and his criminal reign of terror centered on Winslow Avenue. Under the Rogowski sentence, he would not have been eligible for release until age 93.

Two months after Rogowski imposed the life term on Highsmith in 1995, he ordered his younger brother, Larry "Bird" Highsmith, now 41, to serve 19 years to life on drug-trafficking and weapons charges linked to the Highsmith gang. Larry High-smith, a Marine Corps veteran, was paroled five years ago.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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