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A FALLEN STAR

Prison for Jones

Former Olympic champion is given a six-month sentence as judge decides against leniency, saying he hopes to send a message to others

January 12, 2008|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Olympian sprinter Marion Jones on Friday received six months in prison and two years of community service for lying about steroid use and her involvement in a check-fraud scheme, completing a fall from grace as stunning as her ascent as one of the world's most celebrated athletes.

U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Karas said that he had considered probation or home detention for Jones, who has two young children and has been publicly repentant. Jones voluntarily gave up her five Olympic medals in December after confessing in court two months before to using banned drugs.

But the judge decided that her sentence must send a pointed message.

"There is a very strong argument that incarceration may make others think twice and show that no one is above the legal obligation to tell the truth," Karas said.

Karas asked lawyers last week if he could go beyond the recommended six-month sentence negotiated in a plea deal because the charges stemmed from perjury in two separate federal investigations, but both sides advised him against it. The judge said that he had doubts that Jones had been fully forthcoming about the extent of her drug use, especially whether she knew that the substance her trainer told her was flaxseed oil was in fact a banned performance-enhancing drug.

"Its very difficult to believe that a top-notch athlete, knowing that a razor-thin margin makes the difference, would not be keenly aware and very careful about what he or she put into her body," he said.

But instead of a longer sentence, Karas decided to have Jones use her strong personality and high profile to get the message out to kids that it is wrong to cheat, and wrong to lie about cheating. After her release, Jones, a former standout at Oxnard Rio Mesa and Thousand Oaks highs, must spend 400 hours each year for two years doing community service.

Addressing the court before the sentencing, Jones stood with her head bowed and tears tracking her face, a posture that darkly echoed her stance on the Olympic dais in the 2000 Sydney Games in which she won three gold medals and two bronzes.

"I absolutely realize the gravity of the offenses I've committed, and I am deeply sorry," she said. She began to cry as she pleaded with the judge to not separate her from her 4-year-old son and 7-month-old baby, whom she is still nursing.

Jones, who is now married to sprinter Obadele Thompson and goes by the name Jones-Thompson, embraced her husband after the sentencing, weeping. They held hands as she walked out of the courtroom.

"As everyone can imagine, I'm very disappointed today," Jones told reporters outside the courthouse in the rain. "But as I stood in front of all of you for years in victory, I stand in front of you today. I stand for what is right.

"I respect the judge's order, and I truly hope that people will learn from my mistakes."

The International Olympic Committee and the track federation erased all her results dating to Sept. 1, 2000. The millions she made in prize money and product endorsements are now gone, and Karas said he would not fine Jones because she is not able to pay.

Her lawyers requested that she serve her sentence at a minimum-security federal prison camp for women in Bryan, Texas, so she could be near her family in Austin. Karas ordered her to begin serving her time before March 11.

Jones was not convicted for illegal drug use but for lying about it to federal investigators, as well as her false denial of involvement in a check-fraud scheme orchestrated by her former husband, Tim Montgomery. Montgomery and several others have been convicted in that scam.

(Later Friday, the judge sentenced Jones' former coach, Olympic champion Steve Riddick, to 63 months in prison for his role in the check-fraud scam. The guidelines called for between 78 and 97 months. Riddick also was given three years' probation and must pay back $375,000.)

Jones fiercely denied any drug use until a sobbing confession in court last October. She has never failed a drug test, which shows the sophistication of the dopers and the inadequacy of detection tests to distinguish which performances were artificially boosted.

But Jones is the first athlete to be convicted in connection with a lab that supplied athletes and trainers with illegal drug cocktails. A 2003 federal raid on the Northern California Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative found records, doping calendars and other documents linking prohibited steroids to Jones and other athletes, including home-run king Barry Bonds.

"The fact that an athlete with so much talent and promise . . . made the decision to cheat is a terrible disappointment," U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Jim Scherr said in a statement. "This unfortunate situation does, however, offer a lesson to young people about the importance of making good choices and honoring the value of clean competition."

BALCO founder Victor Conte testified that he supplied Jones with tetrahydrogestrinone, a drug he called the clear, and that she knew what it was. He also said he gave her the cream, insulin, EPO, and personally injected her with human growth hormone in 2001. Conte spent four months in prison.

"I feel very sad for Marion and her family," Conte said in a statement Friday. "There is a saying in prison that inmates don't do the time, their families do. Looking into a family member's eyes and seeing the hurt you have caused is the most painful consequence.

"Hopefully, she will be able to serve as an example and help others to make good decisions."

--

Times staff writer Lance Pugmire, in Los Angeles, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

maggie.farley@latimes.com

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