WASHINGTON -- When Gilbert Arenas appeared at a charity event a few weeks ago, no amount of smiles and hugs could hide the underlying tension surrounding the next big date on his calendar.
"So that's what everybody's waiting for," Arenas said. "March 26, huh?"
The fateful date has arrived.
The Washington Wizards three-time All-Star point guard will be sentenced Friday in D.C. Superior Court on one felony count of violating the District of Columbia's strict gun laws. Judge Robert E. Morin will decide whether Arenas does jail time or gets probation.
The prosecution and defense teams stated their cases earlier this week in voluminous filings. It's all far beyond anything Arenas imagined on that December morning when he says he brought four guns to the locker room to play a prank on a teammate.
Prosecutors want Arenas to go to jail for at least three months. They point out that he lied repeatedly about why the guns were in the locker room, that he tried to cover up what happened, that he displayed a cavalier attitude about the whole affair, that he knew bringing guns into D.C. was illegal, and that he has a prior gun conviction.
"If any other individual -- without the fame, power, and the wealth of this defendant -- brought four firearms into Washington, D.C., for the purpose of a similar confrontation, fabricated a story to conceal that confrontation, provided convenient explanations in an attempt to mitigate his conduct that were proved false, joked about the incident to large groups, and stated that he did nothing wrong and felt no remorse, the government would seek their incarceration, and the Court would almost certainly give it," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh.
Arenas' lawyers are asking for probation and community service, arguing that he was playing a misguided joke with no intention to harm anybody. They point out that the guns were unloaded, that Arenas' lighthearted comments about the incident were misinterpreted, and that he's a good role model who goes beyond the call of duty when it comes to community service. They add that he was confused about D.C.'s gun laws, and that he's already been severely punished through humiliation and the loss of tens of millions of dollars from canceled endorsements and his suspension without pay for the rest of the NBA season.
"The whole world has watched as a man who brought four unloaded guns into the District of Columbia was required to accept a felony plea, suffer great personal and professional collateral consequences, register as a 'gun offender,' submit to court supervision, and face public scorn," the lawyers wrote. "This sad saga has sent a strong message to any and all who might consider bringing guns into the District."
The maximum term for Arenas' crime is five years. The sentencing guidelines for someone with his record call for 6-24 months, although those guidelines also allow for probation.
A general survey of similar cases over the last two years in the city indicate that about half of the defendants convicted of Arenas' crime receive some jail time, but the mitigating circumstances vary widely. Arenas' prior conviction -- a no contest plea to carrying a concealed weapon in California in 2003 -- was already a major strike against him, and the evidence revealed this week that he appeared to instigate a cover-up -- as shown in a text message produced by prosecutors -- has further damaged his case.
There's now little dispute about the basic facts of the case. Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton got into an argument over a card game and exchanged threats while the team was flying home from a road game on Dec. 19. Two days later, Arenas brought his guns to the locker room and put them in a chair by Crittenton's locker with a sign saying, "Pick 1." Crittenton then retrieved his own gun and showed it to Arenas.
Crittenton pleaded guilty in January to a misdemeanor gun charge and received a year of unsupervised probation. Arenas entered his guilty plea on Jan. 15.
Arenas' sentence could determine whether the Wizards will attempt to void the remainder of his six-year, $111 million contract, although the players' union has vowed to fight such a move. Regardless, Arenas' misdeed has helped contribute to the precipitous decline of a franchise that is headed for its second consecutive last-place finish after several years as playoff regular.
Gun control advocates will be monitoring Friday's developments closely. Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said he thinks jail time is appropriate in Arenas' case.
"Guns are not something to be played around with," Helmke said. "I think a message needs to be sent that Arenas violated the law, it's the second time he's violated a gun law, and while our laws are weak in this country, everyone says let's make sure we enforce the laws that are on the books. He violated those laws, and I think he needs to pay the penalty."