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Welcome to the Pardon Billy Foundation Headquarters!

Billy’s Story

My Name is William Dekle, My friends have called me Billy most of my life..  I was born October 18, 1949 at Alachua General Hospital in Gainesville, Florida.  I attended 1st thru 6th grade at Lake Butler, in Union County.  At this school classes 1 thru 12 were in the same building.  During this time which was the 50’s or 60’s I lived on a 120 acre farm on New River, which was the county line between Union and Bradford counties.    I spent most of my spare time hunting squirrel,  rabbits, quail and dove, with a 22 Rifle or my 20 GA Shotgun.  During this period of my life my dream was to become a cowboy just like the character Clint Eastwood played in the television program Rawhide..  Dad, who was employed by Southern Bell Telephone Company, received a promotion along with a transfer to a town named Lake City.  Against my most forceful objections and threats of running away from home we moved to Lake City where I started the 7th grade.  My first impression was that I was now living in a big city.  I soon started making friends and became interested in playing Football.

At the age of 16 during Summer Vacation I rode the bus down to Miami to spend some time with my cousins Reggie and Rodney.  After arriving at my cousins’, Reggie informed me that he was learning how to fly and in fact, He actually had a Students Pilots License and he had already soloed.  Reggie also informed me he was in the night flying phase of his training and he was scheduled for a night solo flight that very night.  Although students were prohibited from carrying passengers, Reggie invited me to come along and ride with him.  All I would have to do was to get on and off the Airplane undetected.  That night I rode with my cousin for an hour of night flying all over Miami.  I had always thought that before anyone could become a Pilot they would first have to complete College and join the Air Force.  My cousin informed me that the Sky was open to regular people like us and that I could also start taking Flying Lessons.

That very night in Miami, I made a career change from cowboy to pilot.  Having lived on a Farm, I had always liked machinery and an airplane had to be without question the ultimate machine.  As soon as I got back home, I broke the news to my father who was very pleased that I had decided not to be a cowboy.  I also told my Dad that there was more good news, and it was that I could start learning to fly immediately.  Dad helped me locate a flight instructor who had his own airplanes and his own airport with a grass runway right at his house.  I began taking flying lessons as often as possible and I soloed at 16 years old.  I received my private pilot’s certificate at age 17, my commercial certificate at age 18, and my flight instructor’s, multi-engine, and instrument ratings soon followed.

While attending Lake City Community College, I met Kay Sistrunk, fell in love and married her on February 21, 1971.  I had already quit college, bought a new Cessna 150 and was trying to make a living teaching people to fly.  I had already come to realize that Lake City was not quite as large a city as I’d first thought, and the number of people wanting to learn to fly wasn’t enough to keep one flight instructor very busy.  During this time my Dad had retired from the Telephone Company and gone into the grassing business.  Most of his work consisted of planting grass on state, Federal, and Interstate highways.  Dad’s business was booming and he saw that my business wasn’t, so he asked me to come to work for him.  I did. The Grassing Company had jobs all the way from South Florida to West Florida, so Dad bought a twin engine Piper Aztec, and later a Cessna 411 to get around the state and visit the jobs with.  These company airplanes enabled me to stay current with my flying.

After several profitable years the Arab oil embargo hit and we began to have more competition for fewer jobs.  This marked the beginning of the decline of our family business, a decline which ended in bankruptcy.  Shortly after the bankruptcy I went to work for a road construction company as a foreman on a road crew.  The road construction job was a good job except there was one problem—I was making roughly about one third the salary I had previously made.  To say the least I was soon in a great big financial bind.  I had almost every credit card imaginable and they were all maxed out.  I was behind on the payments, the house payments were behind, I had sold our car and we were driving one that my mother in law had loaned us.  My father in law loaned us enough money to get the credit card people off our backs at least temporarily.

Unfortunately I did not have enough vision to see any legal solution to my financial dilemma.  It was evident that I could not borrow myself out of debt and with the salary I was making paving highways.  I was just slipping farther and farther back in the hole each week.  Marijuana smuggling by air was in its infancy at that time, and it was something I thought I would never do.  The area aviation community Gainesville, Daytona, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Lake City was small and it was easy to tell who was having success and who was having bad luck in the airborne importation business.  I knew a few pilots who had entered the marijuana smuggling business, and I did not feel any different toward them than I did before they were smuggling.  I had felt the same way back in the 60’s when quite a few of my friends began smoking marijuana.  I didn’t feel like that somehow transformed them in to bad people.

My financial difficulties had gotten so bad, that I had to empty out the piggy bank in order to buy groceries.  At that point I said to myself, “This don’t make no sense. I know pilots that are making big money flying marijuana. I’m a pilot and I can fly as good as anyone. It’s time to go see some friends.”  I planned to fly just enough to get enough money to go into some kind of small business.

The first person I contacted hired me, and I soon found out that smuggling was a lot harder and more dangerous than advertised by the news media.  I thought I would have enough money to stop after five trips, but it took three attempts before I was successful in returning to the USA with a load of marijuana.  In order to make this one load, I had gone through several near death experiences with a blown engine, bad fuel, a malfunctioning fuel tank, fog, thunderstorms, mountains, and hitting a cow on the runway.  Instead of thinking I would retire after five trips, I was beginning to think that I would not be able to survive five trips. But I didn’t have enough sense to stop, and as the old saying goes, practice makes perfect.  By the time I’d made five successful trips I pretty much had the hang of it and I had enough money to pay all my bills and fill up all my pockets and take a vacation with the wife and kids.

Something happened over those first five trips that was completely unexpected.  I’m sure that psychiatrists have a name for what happened to me.  It wasn’t just for the money anymore.  I was enjoying it.  For me there was no better feeling than surviving close encounters with death.  This was a very happy time in my life.  The flying was challenging and fulfilling, the people I met in South America were happy to see me, the people at the island fuel stops were happy to see me, and my friends I made in the states were happy to see me.  Everyone seemed so happy.

Then one November night in 1979 at Boscobel Airport in Jamaica I landed to pick up a load of marijuana and when I got there the load wasn’t quite ready.  I cut off the engines to the airplane and waited for the men to finish bringing in all the marijuana.  After finally getting all the marijuana loaded on the airplane and as I was preparing to start the left engine, I saw a flash of fire and heard the report of a 12 gauge shotgun.  This shot was immediately followed by much more gun fire.  It was the Saint Mary’s Parish Police and they were not happy.  One man trained a shotgun on me, and as I looked down the barrel of the gun another man screamed at him to shoot me.  I was sure my time on earth was over.  I immediately thought of my two daughters, ages seven and five, who would have to grow up knowing their Dad got his brains blown out in Jamaica.  My next thought was “I hope they get a clean kill because I don’t want to do a lot of kicking and jerking.”

The man with the shotgun was not the kind of person who would kill a helpless man no matter how forcefully his supervisor ordered him to shoot me.  When we got back to the jail we found out why the police were so mad.  They wanted to know if we thought we could get away with using their airport without paying.  We did pay $15,000 but the man we gave the payoff money was greedy and only paid one policeman $700, keeping the remaining $14,300 for himself.

After hiring two lawyers, making a large payoff to Jamaican officials, paying a fine, and doing 30 days in jail, I was deported back to the United States.  I arrived back in Florida on Christmas Day in 1979.  I had two co-defendants in jail waiting for their fines to be paid before they could be released, and I gave my friends my word that I would get the money together to pay their fines so as soon as I got back to the States.  I tried to locate a few people who owed me money, but they were impossible to find.  There was no way I could abandon my friends in jail, I needed money, lots of it and fast. I decided it would be faster to make some new money than to try to collect old money.  The only way I know to get it was in an airplane. Within less than two weeks, I was back on Jamaican soil for another load of marijuana.  Needless to say I never cut my engines off again.  I secured the money and paid my friends’ fines so they could come home.

Smuggling was getting more exciting and I was getting better at it all the time.  I will fast forward to my next arrest sometime around 1981.  I was arrested on a very big indictment for RICO, along with people I didn’t know and people I did know.  I had to hire a very expensive lawyer, and I was in county jail for 168 days before my bond was dropped to a reasonable amount.  The star Government witness was caught on the stand in all kinds of lies, so the government made a deal with us if we would plead to the case they would sentence us to 2 years and suspend everything but 9 months and we could do the remainder of the sentence on work release..  I had already done almost 6 months, so I would just have to spend the night in jail for 90 more days.  Not bad when I was looking at a max of 30 years.  So we all agree to plead nolo contendere.  We did our work release and that was the end of that—or so I thought.  I also had five years probation.  I was young and very bitter.  I had to spend Gobs of money. I was tied up in court and I had not been caught with as much as a pot seed, except in Jamaica.

I learned that I was being investigated on a whole lots of pot  runs I had made that were not part of my RICO case, and it appeared to me that I could get arrested again at anytime.  I decided that I had better make some more money because no matter what I was going to need a lawyer again soon.  So back to work I went, and just when things seemed to be smoothing out, and I thought maybe the law had forgot about me and moved on to bigger things, They arrested me again for conspiracy.  I plead not guilty, go to court and at court the government could not produce one witness who had ever seen me with any marijuana or ever found any marijuana on me, but some of the witnesses said that they heard that the marijuana was mine and that was enough to find me guilty.

I was having a hard time trying to understand exactly what conspiracy is (And still am), and I’m sure the jury was probably trying to do the right thing.  I’m sure they thought “Well he had to have done something or the police would not have arrested him, then this must be conspiracy, whatever that is.”  So I got sentenced to five years Federal time.

I’m sent to Milan Michigan FCI for about a year and then I get moved to Tallahassee FCI for another year before I make parole.  When I got to Tallahassee I ran into a lot of people that I already knew from the marijuana smuggling business.  Tallahassee FCI back in 1985 was one great big staging area for smugglers.  Almost everyone there was getting out soon and they were all making plans for their next smuggling run.

Before I get out of Tallahassee I’m arrested by the state of Florida for RICO again.  This arrest was for a couple of trips I made back in 1980 so I could get the money to pay the fines in Jamaica.  It seemed to me that even if you quit you still get arrested.  It was 1986, I had been in prison since 1984 I felt like that was about as quit as could be, and I got arrested for something back in early 1980.  Something that I had practically forgotten about.  The lawyer bills were really piling up.

I go from FCI Tallahassee to Putnam correctional Florida Prison for about 8 months because of a probation violation then to Volusia county jail for my new RICO charge.  After one night in jail I post bond and I’m home at last.  I’m broke and I know that I’m being investigated on the time period from 1980 until 1984 when the Federals arrested me.  In other words it looks like there are more arrest coming and probably coming soon.  So I make a bad decision.  My wife tries to get me to quit, but I think the answer to this problem is more smuggling which equates to more money.  I call some friends I had made at Tallahassee and here we go again.  Only this time things start going bad from the very beginning.

The very first load got busted on the ground after it is unloaded from the airplane.  A few weeks later the airplane is seized and one of my friends is arrested in Miami on some kind of unrelated weapons charge.  I begin to feel like an arrest for me is imminent.  So I decide to abscond and run as many loads as I can before they catch me.  I figured that when they caught me I could get at most 10 years and probably do 40 months on it.  And by the time they caught me I would have plenty of money to last until I got out.

It was approximately three years before I was apprehended, and by that time the laws had changed.  Now it was possible to get a life sentence for marijuana—and to make matters worse, the Federal authorities had done away with parole.  This was all news to me and very bad news.  There was only one way that I could avoid a life sentence and even get as little as 10 years, and that was to become a cooperating Government witness testifying against other smugglers in court.  I couldn’t do it.  I would never do anything to benefit myself that could even remotely put my family in danger.  I believe anyone who does something like that is a coward to the highest level.  So I got a life sentence without parole for not cooperating.

My decision to run back in 1986 ruined my life.  If I had stayed and faced the music, I would have gotten a lengthy sentence, but I could have been paroled.  Under the new law I got life without parole.  But I got sentenced under the new law for things I had done under the old law.  My lawyer tried to argue that I should have been sentenced under the old law.  It didn’t work, and my appeal failed.  My only hope at that time was that the Supreme Court would rule that the new law didn’t apply to old violations.  Eventually, that’s exactly what they did.  But it didn’t help me at all.  When Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building in 1995, Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.  This act gave a deadline for filing post-conviction motions, and by the time the Supreme Court ruled that old law violations should be sentenced under the old law, my time limit had run.

I understand that I broke the law, and I understand that I am the person most responsible for me being in the fix I am in.  I understand that I should be punished, and I know I have been punished, but I think in fairness, I should have been sentenced under the old law.  Under the old law, I would have been eligible for parole.  Would it be unfair to give me at least a little light at the end of my tunnel, and give me at least a chance to someday get out of prison and get to know my grandchildren?   All I ask is that my sentence be commuted to an old law sentence which would make me eligible for parole.


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