By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Former Olympic champion Marion Jones was sentenced by a federal judge to six months in prison yesterday for lying to investigators about her use of steroids and involvement in a check-fraud scheme, completing one of the most spectacular falls from grace of any athlete in any sport.
Jones, who won five medals at the 2000 Summer Games and was heralded as the world's greatest female athlete, received the maximum sentence recommended by prosecutors from U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas, who said he wanted to send a message to athletes who abuse performance-enhancing drugs.
Jones, 32, also was sentenced during the hearing in White Plains, N.Y., to two years of probation and 800 hours of community service with children. "As everyone can imagine, I'm very disappointed today," Jones told reporters outside the court. "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," Jones added, according to the Associated Press.
Karas ordered Jones to report to prison March 11. Her lawyers requested she serve her sentence at a minimum-security federal prison camp for women in Bryan, Tex., 95 miles northwest of Houston.
Jones pleaded with the judge, saying she should not be away from her two young sons -- ages 7 months and 4 years -- even for a short period of time and asking that he "be as merciful as a human being can be," the AP reported. When her sentence was announced, she cried on the shoulder of her husband, former Barbados Olympian Obadele Thompson.
At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Jones catapulted to international fame when she won three gold medals and two bronzes, displaying extraordinary athletic ability and ease and charm in front of cameras.
But after years of denying that she used performance-enhancing drug use, Jones admitted as part of a plea agreement in October that she had begun taking a steroid now known as "the clear" just before those Olympics and continued using it into 2001.
Though she claimed in her plea deal and in a letter to relatives that she had been tricked into using the steroid by her former coach, Trevor Graham, prosecutors alleged in a sentencing memorandum that she took a variety of drugs -- steroids, human growth hormone and erythropoietin (EPO) -- and did so knowingly and with the intention of furthering her career.
Karas rejected Jones's appeal for leniency, saying he was "troubled" by Jones's claims that her steroid use was unwitting.
"That's a very difficult thing 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 in her body, and the effects," Karas told Jones during yesterday's hearing, according to Bloomberg News.
Though Jones never tested positive, despite being subjected to frequent drug tests, her name was found on lab work and doping calendars at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (Balco) during a 2003 raid on the nutrition company. That raid produced evidence that has led to more than a dozen suspensions of track and field athletes and six criminal convictions.
Jones, however, is the first athlete connected to the Balco case to receive prison time. Her sentence exceeds those given to any of the others who were convicted, including Balco founder Victor Conte and chemist Patrick Arnold, who designed the steroids that became known as the clear.
Baseball slugger Barry Bonds also has been charged with lying to investigators in connection with the Balco probe, as has cyclist Tammy Thomas.