Judge Scheindlin, in the interviews, also ruminated over a judge’s influence and the occasions when it goes only so far. She revealed, for example, that she believed that the 25-year sentence she imposed in 2012 on Mr. Bout was excessive and inappropriate.
But because one count carried a mandatory 25-year minimum sentence, she was unable to impose a lesser term.
Mr. Bout had been arrested in Bangkok after an elaborate government sting operation that relied on informers who posed as representatives of a terrorist group who wanted to buy arms to kill American pilots stationed in Colombia. The evidence showed that Mr. Bout had agreed to sell hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, thousands of AK-47 machine guns and five tons of plastic explosives to the informants. Prosecutors had sought a life sentence, but Judge Scheindlin recalled having reservations.
There was no doubt Mr. Bout had been an international arms dealer, she said, but by the time of his arrest, he was “pretty well retired.”
“The question was, ‘Was he still an international arms dealer, and does that matter?’” she continued.
“I’m not defending him,” she said, “but he’s a businessman. He was in the business of selling arms.” He was not, she said, a fighter or a terrorist from Al Qaeda “who lives to blow up civilians in a supermarket.”
“They reeled this guy in,” she said. “They offered him a lot of money.” She added, “I gave the lowest sentence I could possibly give.”