Thursday, January 24, 2008
Judge Karas Resists ‘Celebrity Shield’
Issues Right Sentence Under The Circumstances
District Court Judge Kenneth Karas, in his sentencing of disgraced former track star Marion Jones in Federal Court, White Plains, January
11th, resisted all pressure mounted by Defense and Prosecution attorneys, alike, to get him to let her skate without doing any jail time. Published reports several days before the sentencing had quoted the Defendant, herself, lobbying the Court. Sitting in the courtroom, one got the clear impression that Jones’ celebrity shield was certainly in play.
For openers, her principle attorney, F. Hill Allen, put on a performance calculated to make it appear that his client had been exemplary in her
acts of acceptance of responsibility, “unlike any”, he had ever seen. His comment, “However belatedly, she stepped up to the plate and shared information with the Government,” could not have been more preposterous given that, for seven years, Jones had adamantly
denied use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs, and had flat-out lied to Government investigators in California three years ago,
frustrating and slowing down their investigation into the use of such unlawful substances in sports.
Allen declared, with regard to her eventual cooperation and plea deal with federal authorities, “That was six months before any indictment
was handed up,” as if to make the Court, and perhaps the World, believe that she was no way aware that an indictment was forthcoming.
He went on, “Her elocution on October 5th was longer than anything I’ve ever seen. Her statement on the courthouse steps; there was no
equivocation. She chose what to say. We didn’t put the words in her mouth.”
Going further, he told the Court, “She has been pillaried, pummelled, savaged. I would liken it to a biblical stoning. Every result in her career since September 2000 has been dissolved; she has been stripped of her career. She has taken it with a courage I cannot even describe.”
Judge Karas, turning to Attorney Allan, felt compelled to remark, “You and I both know there was a history from the spring of 2007 where your client was quite adamant in her denials.” Karas was attempting to keep Allen’s feet on the floor.Allen responded, “She
was weak. I don’t say that she shouldn’t have come clean immediately; and she had every opportunity to do so. It was a
very human thing that she did.” He had the nerve to then say, “We have asked for no special treatment or consideration.” He couldn’t prove it by any reasonably intelligent observer in the courtroom.
It was plain to those who could handle the truth that, in point of fact, Marion Jones expected and was receiving very special treatment. Nowhere, in her attorney’s comments, nor in her own, was there ever an acknowledgement of the harm she did to those she had competed
against; denying honest, drug-free athletes, the gold, silver and bronze medals, and the acclaim they had worked so hard for. At no point were
those thefts apologized for. She might have been compelled to bail out on her repeated denials by the threat of overwhelming evidence before
her. But, humility and compassion for those she had cheated, those she beat by inches at the wire, even on performance-enhancing drugs, was
totally lacking from her repertoire. She was, after all, one of the most highly celebrated female athletes in the world. It was always about her,
and it would still be.
Interestingly, an Assistant United States Attorney from New York, already on the record with the Court, as willing to accept “a sentence
between zero and six months jail time,” said of Jones, “The Defendant has fully and completely accepted responsibility.” He conceded however, “She came in, not because of a crisis of conscience.”
In contrast, an Assistant United States Attorney from California opened his remarks with, “The lie she told was a Worldwide Lie.”
Judge Karas had added, “The Worldwide Lie involved people using illegal substances in sports.”
The California-based United States attorney resumed his remarks, declaring, “A truthful answer at the time of our original investigation would have enabled us to move forward more easily with our investigation.” Judge Karas made a point of reminding the New York Prosecutor that other individuals connected with Jones’ case, “will be sentenced today, one of whom had produced false documents, obstructing justice, offenses for which the New York office has recommended an upward extension of his sentence by 19 months.”
Marion Jones, who was not only being sentenced in connection with lying about drugging, but also in connection with a check fraud
scheme, said to the Court, “I admitted my mistakes too late; but, hopefully not too late to experience the milk of human kindness.”
Judge Karas took great care and effort to share his thinking and deliberations with Jones, her family and supporters, and the press and
media of the world. He defined the issues with which he was confronted, asking, “What is the appropriate level of punishment for lying to the Government; lies made three years apart in very serious cases; one case having involved a fraud of $6 million?”
The Judge continued, “Athletes in our society enjoy an elevated status; they entertain, they inspire; they are role models.” Alluding to the
potential broad impact on children, he reminded those in the courtroom, “The false statements occured twice in both ends of the country.
I don’t believe it can be written off. I understand that to provide truthful answers would have had serious implications. Committing of the offenses was compounded by not being truthful.”
Karas then looked directly at Jones, declaring, “I am sorry to say that I do have some doubts about the sincerity of her statements before
the Court during her elocution. Athletes at Ms. Jones’ level know very well the difference between great and good is infinitesimally small. It’s hard to believe an athlete at Ms. Jones’ level wouldn’t be aware of the difference in her performance while taking the substance. Nobody is above the responsibility to tell the truth.”
Then, after reviewing the aspects of Specific and General Deterrents in deciding sentences, and reflecting upon the harm to children, he declared, “We wouldn’t be here today if Ms. Jones had told the truth!” He concluded, “In the end, I think there is an argument for incarceration because of the need for deterrence and to promote respect for the law.”
Judge Karas then proceeded to sentence Marion Jones on the first count of her indictment to six months imprisonment and, on the second
count, to two months imprisonment, to run concurrently in a federal detention facility. He further directed that upon release she would be
subject to two years of supervision, during which she was to complete 400 hours of community service, specifically, “to get the message out to children about the importance of telling the truth and to conform to rules of competition and not use illegal drugs.”