PORTLAND — A federal judge Monday denied bail to a Lewiston man who is awaiting sentencing on an illegal gun possession charge, but whose case has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Sabree Lamar Branch, 28, of 193 Lincoln St., appeared Monday by videoconference from Strafford County Jail in New Hampshire, where he is being held without bail.

Sabree Lamar Branch Submitted photo

Branch pleaded guilty in December in U.S. District Court to being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Punishment for the Class C felony is a maximum of 10 years in prison. Federal sentencing guidelines provide a range of 70 to 87 months for Branch’s crime, according to a presetnecing report, although a judge could sentence him to less time.

Branch was arrested Sept. 4, 2018, after local and federal agents executed a search warrant at Branch’s apartment, seeking evidence including firearms, ammunition, bullets, casing and other related items, according to an affidavit found in court papers.

After officers knocked on his door and announced themselves, they watched him run back to his bedroom. They forced their way in and found him in his bedroom along with his girlfriend.

In the bedroom, they recovered an 8-ounce baggie of crack cocaine on a TV stand and a Smith and Wesson .380-caliber handgun in the drawer of a dresser, according to the affidavit.

The gun had been reported stolen. His DNA was found on the gun.

Branch had a 2015 conviction of use of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime.

An expert determined the gun had not been made in Maine and had crossed state lines.

Branch is finishing a previous sentence in federal custody and was expected to be sentenced on the gun possession plea last spring when a court order in response to the pandemic postponed that sentencing.

Branch’s attorney, Michael Whipple, argued Monday by videoconference that his client should be allowed to be freed on bail pending his sentencing.

“Mr Branch’s case has been and continues to be significantly delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Whipple wrote in his motion.

He wrote that Branch is housed in a jail “where there is known (and unknown) cases of COVID-19. Detainees are subjected to concerning conditions and fears relating to COVID-19 . . . The conditions and treatment for detainees is poor, to say the least.”

Whipple wrote that “tensions and dangers are increased and Mr. Branch has been subjected to violent assaults due to racial tensions, heightened detainee agitation and/or both.”

Branch has a history of seizures from a car crash and he is concerned that may affect his health if he were to contract COVID-19, Whipple wrote.

He was seeking to be released to the home of his girlfriend, who lives in Sabattus and to work at Dunkin’ Donuts, where he had worked before.

But U.S.Magistrate Judge John H. Rich III said Monday that after hearing arguments from Whipple and Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Perry that exceptional reasons didn’t exist to allow Branch to be freed after pleading guilty to the felony gun charge.

Rich conceded that as “COVID-19 is racing in this country, there is an increased risk of infection generally and to the jail population. But he didn’t find Branch’s medical condition put him in a high-risk category were he to contract the virus.

Moreover, Rich said Branch was proposing to return to stay with the woman with whom he had been at the time of his 2018 arrest.

While the delay in Branch’s sentencing was “unfortunate,” Rich urged the defendant to explore the possibility of a videoconference sentencing, so that Branch could start serving his new sentence.

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