PIKEVILLE – A resentencing hearing for an elderly Magoffin man who was convicted in 2013 on federal drug charges was rescheduled, yet, again, this time due to COVID-19 cases where he is being held.
In 2013, Howard Harlow Back, 84, of the Lick Branch Community off KY 378, was found guilty on one count of conspiracy to distribute Oxycodone and 12 counts of distribution of Oxycodone after a three-day trial held in U.S. District Court in Pikeville, and sentenced to 22 years, with 10 years probation to follow and a fine totaled at $521,300.
In 2017, after filing numerous appeals, Back’s sentence was reduced to 17.5 years imprisonment, and an amended judgment upheld the same sentencing in 2019, then in April this year that sentence was vacated after he appealed the sentencing due to his attorney failing to file a notice of appeal in a timely manner.
Four Court of Appeals cases and five terminated attorneys since his 2012 case began, often times representing himself before the court, Back was scheduled to be resentenced in August this year, then rescheduled for September, at which time it was continued, yet, again, due to Back having a limb amputated, pushing the resentencing hearing to November. That hearing was rescheduled due to Back’s current attorney, Noah R. Friend, having a newborn baby and wife recovering from a C-section, asking the hearing to be set after December 1. The resentencing hearing was scheduled as a video conference for December 17, but that hearing was canceled last week due to COVID issues at the prison, according to court records. The hearing is to be rescheduled at a later date.
Back is currently being held at the Butner Low Security Federal Correction Institution, in North Carolina, which has four staff with active cases of COVID-19 and no inmates, according to the Bureau of Prison’s coronavirus data.
Friend also submitted a sentencing memorandum on December 16 to be considered during the resentencing hearing, noting that Back, “does not have a lengthy criminal history, and has previously served as an elected official, has a lengthy and varied work history, and has served in the United States armed forces.”
Given his age, now at 84 years of age, and his lengthy medical records just from the last two years, including a “serious operation performed on his foot, which resulted in an infection,” a long list of medications, Friend asked that home confinement be considered in his case.
“Based on the Defendant’s age, health, and general life expectancy, continued incarceration will serve as essentially a life sentence,” Friend wrote in the memorandum. “If there are concerns about the Defendant engaging in criminal behavior in the future, these can be addressed through the imposition of restrictions via home confinement, or other conditions of supervision.”
The memo also included a picture of Back in uniform and an old copy of the Salyersville Independent showing he had won an election for tax commissioner at one point.
At press time, no resentencing hearing is scheduled.
It is important to note, however, that Back is no stranger to the legal system. In 1991 he was sentenced on a manslaughter conviction and in 2004 he was sentenced on solicitation to murder and facilitation of arson charges. Both cases were in Magoffin County.