A Pesaro court convicted former Washington Bullet Joe Pace of drug abuse tonight, but suspended his 20-month sentence and ordered the 6-foot-9 player released from jail immediately.
Pace and two Italian youngsters were convicted of use, possession and distribution of drugs at the end of the 10-hour trial before a courtroom packed with local basketball fans.
The sentence, which caused murmurs of protests from a solidly pro-Pace crowd, will be appealed by lawyers representing Pace and acting on behalf of the Scavolini Basketball club, for whom Pace played last season.
On March 8, Pace was arrested on drug charges that followed his hospitalization two days earlier from an overdose of heroin. Because of the appeal, for the time being there will be no order of expulsion from Italy.
Although the Scavolini team had recently decided not to renew Pace's contract, the drug charges and subsequent trial appeared to have changed their minds. A meeting of the club's board of directors called for Tuesday is expected to produce an offer of a new contract for Pace.
Pace sat through the entire trial with his head bowed.His wife, Paulette, who arrived in Pesaro from Baltimore last week, said that he was very depressed. She added, however, that she hoped the experience would be lesson for her husband.