Singing legend Stevie Wonder has pleaded with a judge to free a man convicted of serious drug offences so he can spend some quality time with his family before starting a lengthy prison sentence.

ANTONIO AMEEN is appealing after being convinced of being the leader of a cocaine and heroin ring operating between the West Coast and Detroit, America. Ameen argues that he did not receive a fair trial because of his ethnicity and was found guilty by a jury that contained no black jurors.

Wonder - who befriended Ameen when he became a musician and producer in Los Angeles - had previously begged Judge JOHN O'MEARA to free his pal in an emotional letter saying, "Please look within the deepest part of your heart, spirit and history and use any discretion that you have to keep this man with his family as long as possible."

Ameen has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

O'Meara ruled that Ameen and fellow convict STEVEN FANTROY should remain on free until beds could be found for them by the Bureau of Prisons and said he would consider the possibility of both men remaining out of prison until their appeals had been heard.

24/09/2003 02:32