Wizards star Gilbert Arenas avoids jail time in gun incident
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas was spared a jail term Friday for his gun-toting confrontation with a teammate at Verizon Center, walking free from D.C. Superior Court after a judge scolded him for immaturity but said probation was more appropriate than time behind bars.
Calling Arenas's now-infamous angry encounter with reserve guard Javaris Crittenton "a stupid and immature act," Judge Robert E. Morin recited a list of other factors in the case, finding that nearly all weighed in Arenas's favor. Rather than send him to jail for three months, as a prosecutor wanted, Morin imposed an 18-month suspended sentence and ordered Arenas to serve two years of probation, starting with a month in a halfway house, probably beginning next week.
The three-time NBA all-star, who must give $5,000 to a fund for crime victims, will be required to spend his nights in the halfway house but can leave daily to perform the 400 hours of community service (none of it basketball-related) that Morin also ordered.
"What we did that day was stupid, irresponsible," said Arenas, 28, referring to the Dec. 21 locker-room confrontation in which he displayed four handguns and Crittenton, 22, took out a semiautomatic pistol of his own. Authorities said they found no evidence that the guns were loaded. In deals with the U.S. attorney's office, each player pleaded guilty to illegal gun possession, a felony count in Arenas's case. Crittenton, sentenced to a year of probation in January, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
Morin, in a packed courtroom, said he was aware of the media's intense focus on the celebrity seated before him in a dark blue suit and blue suede loafers. As Arenas waited to hear his sentence, the judge said that he would not be influenced by the publicity or the fame of the defendant and that he had presided over hundreds of gun-possession cases, each time weighing identical factors before deciding whether to impose a jail term. Arenas benefited from nearly all the criteria.
Among the factors Morin noted: Arenas has no history of violence; there is no indication that his guns were loaded; no one was hurt; neither man pointed a gun at the other; Arenas legally owned the weapons in Virginia; and he took responsibility, cooperating in a police investigation and pleading guilty to a felony less than a month after the confrontation.
Although Arenas served probation in a prior gun case, seven years ago in California, Morin noted that the incident involved improper transportation of a pistol, not an armed confrontation. He also took into account Arenas's extensive work with local charities.
"I am very sorry that all this happened," said Arenas, who declined to comment later as he left the courthouse. "Every day I wake up wishing it didn't."
The sentencing climaxed a tumultuous winter for Arenas, one of Washington's best-paid and most recognizable athletes -- his future now uncertain after a dispute over a few hundred dollars in a poker game escalated into the chest-thumping display of handguns with Crittenton, a third-year NBA journeyman who was making $1.4 million this season to Arenas's $16.2 million. The two have been suspended without pay for the remainder of the season by the league.
Although Arenas's Jan. 15 guilty plea ended a highly publicized police investigation that roiled the Wizards, the case was far from over for him. In court Friday, with his freedom in the balance, the debate focused on his motive for taking the guns into the locker room, the severity of the offense, whether he had fully owned up to what he did and how much contrition he had shown.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh, in seeking jail time, and defense attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein, in pleading for probation, echoed arguments they made in sentencing memos filed in court Tuesday. One portrayed Arenas as a lighthearted prankster who sometimes "regrettably" carries jokes too far; the other cast him as a petulant superstar bent on intimidating a marginal bench player who had "disrespected" him in front of their teammates.
Describing his client as "a peaceful man" who is "fundamentally very decent and unfailingly kind," Wainstein said in his memo that Arenas's "somewhat offbeat" sense of humor is rooted in his impoverished childhood, when he used laughter to mask his emotional pain. In this case, the attorney said, "a very misguided attempt to play a prank" had been overblown by the media and misconstrued by authorities as thuggish bullying.