DANVILLE, Va. (WRIC) — A Virginia man was sentenced to 13 years in prison for his role in a Danville drug ring. But when it came time to sentence him, prosecutors and defense attorneys clashed over whether he was a hardened career offender or a man caught up in circumstances beyond his control.

Kunta Daniels, 43, was sentenced 13 years on one count each of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and heroin, stemming from a ring he ran with his uncle out of an apartment in Danville.

According to an affidavit by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), agents staked out Daniels’ apartment for several days and observed him and his uncle, Joe Daniels, entering and leaving an apartment above Kunta Daniels’ several times, but did not see anyone enter who actually lived in the apartment.

Police had already, on three separate occasions, sent informants to purchase meth and cocaine from Joe Daniels, so in March 2020, they raided the apartment, seizing several hundred grams of cocaine and heroin, as well as a handful of firearms and some body armor.

As part of his plea agreement, Daniels admitted that he was the owner of the drugs and equipment used to weigh and pack the drugs into vacuum-sealed containers but did not admit to ownership of the guns in the apartment.

Passing a Sentence

When it came time for Daniels to be sentenced, prosecutors and his defense attorney presented two different views on the crimes he committed.

“Kunta grew up in a deeply violent, poverty ridden, and drug infested neighborhood in Danville,” Daniels’ attorney wrote. “As a young teen, he fell under the wing of the drug dealers who ran his neighborhood and had plied him with drugs and alcohol starting at 14 years old.”

They said that contrary to the prosecution’s representation of Daniels as a career offender, his only prior convictions were small-time dealing charges — totaling less than a gram of cocaine –when he was 19 and 23, for which he ultimately served 15 years.

They add that when he was released at age 35, he stayed out of trouble for six years and only fell back into dealing again after he was shot twice in the leg and became addicted to painkillers.

“He deeply regrets letting his family down, and makes no excuses for his actions,” they wrote. “He has spent the last two years deeply ashamed that he returned to a lifestyle that has already cost him so much.”

But the prosecution took a harsher stance, pointing to the guns seized during a search of the “stash house” as proof that Daniels was prepared to defend his drug dealing operation with violence.

“The only explanation for these weapons is that Mr. Daniels was prepared to defend his enterprise by using firearms inside a residential apartment complex,” the prosecution wrote. “The presence of four firearms and body armor suggest nothing short of preparation for battle.”

Ultimately, the judge sided with the prosecution in Daniels’ sentencing, imposing 156 months in prison — the sentence requested by prosecutors — three years more than the 120 months requested by the defense.