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Athlete Guilty in $45 Robbery Gets 11 Years


Six years after legal troubles torpedoed his athletic career, former all-star football player Leodes Van Buren was sentenced this week to 11 years in state prison for robbing a Newbury Park pizza parlor.

Van Buren, 24, was convicted of robbery in July for the April 19 robbery during which he slammed two pizza workers into a wall, shattered a wooden money box and stole $45 in cash.

The robbery was Van Buren's second strike under the California three-strikes law, which doubles the normal sentence for a second felony conviction, and the latest in a string of legal woes for the former Newbury Park High School student and football star.

In high school, Van Buren set state records with 269 catches from 1990 to 1993, and became the leading wide receiver in the state after the 1993 football season.

He was headed to the University of Colorado on an athletic scholarship, but the school revoked it after a shooting incident in 1994--his first strike. That year, Van Buren was found guilty of shooting a gun into his girlfriend's home and was sentenced to six months in jail.

In May 1996, he threatened to kill himself and his infant son during a two-hour standoff with police in Newbury Park. He spent more time in jail.

That summer, Van Buren went to Arizona and unsuccessfully tried to play with the Wildcats, hoping to join quarterback Keith Smith, a high school teammate. Van Buren ended up playing at Moorpark College in 1996.

In September 1999, Van Buren was convicted of domestic violence and false imprisonment. That time, he avoided a 30-day jail sentence.

But the final blow came in April, when Van Buren walked into a Domino's Pizza where he had grown accustomed to getting free or cheap food and demanded a cut-rate meal, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Chrystina Jenson.

When a driver stated a price Van Buren didn't want to pay, Jenson said, he became enraged and started pushing the employees around.

"It wasn't free and it wasn't to his liking," she said.

Van Buren pushed one employee into the wooden money box and when it shattered on the floor, he grabbed $45 in cash, the prosecutor said.

A jury found him guilty of second-degree robbery July 17.

On Tuesday, Van Buren appeared before Superior Court Judge Rebecca Riley for sentencing. Riley denied public defender Andrew Krause's request to dismiss the first strike.

As a result, a three-year robbery sentence was doubled to six years under the three-strikes law. And Van Buren received an additional five years for his prior criminal acts. The maximum sentence possible was 15 years.

Krause said he would appeal the sentencing.


Times staff writer Anna Gorman contributed to this story.

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