WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Marion Jones said she was scared. She
said she was sorry. With a catch in her voice, she said her young
sons needed her.
"I ask you to be as merciful as a human being can be," she
implored the judge.
To no avail.
The former Olympic track gold medalist was sentenced to six
months in prison Friday for lying to investigators about using
performance-enhancing drugs and her role in a check-fraud scam.
And so ended a long fall from grace for the one-time fastest
woman on earth.
She leaned over the courtroom railing and softly cried into her
Jones' speed, along with a dazzling smile, pleasant personality
and unmatched style, made her an international superstar even
before she won five medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The medals
and her riches are gone now, and she has been "put through
humiliation with great fanfare," said U.S. District Judge Kenneth
Karas, who sentenced her.
He said Jones damaged two federal investigations with lies that
came years apart, so "I don't think the criminal conduct can be
written off as a momentary lapse of judgment or a one-time mistake,
but instead a repetition of an attempt to break the law."
The check-fraud scheme was a major crime and the wide use of
steroids "affects the integrity of athletic competition," he
said. If Jones had told the truth from the start, he said, it would
have been a great help to the ongoing BALCO investigation.
Later Friday, the judge sentenced Jones' former coach, Olympic
champion Steve Riddick, to 5 years and 3 months in prison for his
role in the check-fraud scam. Riddick also was given three years'
probation and must pay back $375,000.
Riddick's lawyer, Bryan Hoss, said Riddick would appeal.
Jones pleaded with the judge not to separate her from her sons
"even for a short period of time," saying she was still nursing
the younger one. Although she is happily married now to Olympic
sprinter Obadele Thompson, she said she knew from experience the
problems of bringing up children in a one-parent household.
Karas acknowledged the children were victims, but said criminals
"have to realize the consequences of their actions on others."
"We wouldn't be here today talking about the possibility of
incarceration if Ms. Jones-Thompson had told the truth," he said.
A prison sentence, he said, might make others "think twice
before lying. It might make them realize that no one is above the
obligation to tell the truth."
The judge said he stayed within the six-month maximum suggested
by prosecutors because of Jones' sons, her eventual acceptance of
responsibility and the good she "can do to debunk the worldwide
lie" perpetrated by performance-enhancing drugs.
He said 400 hours of community service in each of the two years
following her release would "take advantage of Ms.
Jones-Thompson's eloquence, strength and her ability to work with
kids." He suggested she teach children that "it's wrong to cheat
and to lie about the cheating."
Karas sentenced Jones to six months on the steroids case and two
months on the check fraud case but said the sentences could be
served at the same time. He imposed no fine, he said, because Jones
can't afford to pay one.
After long denying she ever had used performance-enhancing
drugs, Jones admitted last October she lied to federal
investigators in November 2003, acknowledging she took the designer
steroid "the clear" from September 2000 to July 2001. "The
clear" has been linked to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative,
the lab at the center of the steroids scandal in professional
She also admitted lying about her knowledge of the involvement
of Olympic sprinter Tim Montgomery, the father of her older son, in
a scheme to cash millions of dollars worth of stolen or forged
checks. Montgomery and several others have been convicted in that
Karas said he was still not sure Jones was telling the truth
when she said she was unaware she had been taking steroids until
she stopped. An athlete of her caliber knows "the razor-thin
difference" between being good and being great, and she would have
noticed right away, he suggested.
The use of performance-enhancing drugs "sends all the wrong
messages to all who follow the athlete's every move," Karas said.
"Athletes in society have an elevated status. They entertain, they
inspire and perhaps most important they serve as role models."
BALCO founder Victor Conte, who served four months in prison
after pleading guilty to operating a steroids distribution ring,
said Jones "did make some very poor choices, and she does deserve
serious consequences. I certainly don't condone her repeated
USA Track & Field president Bill Roe and CEO Craig Masback
called the Jones saga "a vivid morality play that graphically
illustrates the wages of cheating in any facet of life, on or off
John Fahey, the new president of the World Anti-Doping Agency,
said "it is an example of how the work of WADA is making it more
likely than ever that those who cheat in sport will be caught."
Jones expressed an interest in beginning her sentence as soon as
possible. Karas gave her until March 11 to surrender. Her lawyers
asked that she be sent to a prison near her Austin, Texas, home.
"I'm very disappointed today," Jones told reporters outside
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."