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USC Tackle Justice Receives Probation

He pleads no contest to exhibiting replica of a firearm; sentence calls for a monitoring device.

June 15, 2004|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

USC football player Winston Justice pleaded no contest Monday to one misdemeanor count of exhibition of a replica firearm and was sentenced to 60 days of electronic monitoring and three years' probation.

"I'm happy it's over.... Now it's time to move on," said Justice, who plans to return to USC in the spring of 2005.

Justice, 19, an offensive lineman, was arrested March 3 on suspicion of felony assault with a deadly weapon in connection with an incident that occurred near campus Feb. 24. He had allegedly displayed a firearm during a dispute with the driver of another car and two passengers in a parking lot near campus. At his arraignment in April, he pleaded not guilty to three misdemeanor counts of exhibition of a replica firearm.

Each count carried a possible penalty of 30 to 180 days in jail.

At his pretrial hearing in May, Justice rejected a plea offer from the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office that called for a 90-day jail sentence. He returned to Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday ready for trial.

But before jury selection was to begin, Justice's attorney, Larry Clough, and Deputy City Atty. Melanie Chavira twice met in chambers with Judge Patricia M. Shnegg before reaching a plea agreement.

"It's not the best possible outcome, but it's a fair one," Clough said after Monday's proceeding.

Chavira said she hoped Justice had learned a lesson.

"Even if it was a joke, you can't act in public that way," she said, referring to Clough's contention that Justice should not have been charged criminally for playing with what he described as a toy.

Justice, who started at right tackle his first two seasons, was suspended for two semesters by USC's Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards after his arrest. He will sit out the 2004 season, but said he had been working out daily and was looking forward to returning to school next spring and playing for the Trojans in 2005.

Justice said he did not plan to attend classes at a community college in the fall.

Under the terms of his sentence, Justice can leave his parents' Long Beach home only for workouts -- which Shnegg said she had gone to "great lengths" to treat as employment -- one-hour voluntary counseling sessions and a scheduled meeting with an administrator from USC's Office of Student Affairs. He also was ordered to stay away from the area near the student-housing complex where the incident that led to his arrest occurred.

Justice was already on probation after pleading no contest in July to a misdemeanor count of solicitation of prostitution in Long Beach.

Asked what he had learned from his most recent legal problems, Justice said, "You can't play with toys."

USC Coach Pete Carroll called Justice's latest situation "regrettable for everyone."

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