- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Junior middleweight contender James Kirkland, who pleaded guilty in July to gun possession by a convicted felon, was sentenced Wednesday to two years in prison in U.S. federal court in his hometown of Austin, Texas.
Kirkland, who last fought in March, has been incarcerated since April at the Federal Correctional Institution in Bastrop, Texas, about 20 minutes from Austin, after being arrested for buying a firearm at a gun show. He could be out by June, according to Michael Miller, Kirkland's personal attorney and co-manager.
Kirkland would get credit for the approximately six months he has already served. In addition he can earn credits for good behavior and Texas rules allow for the final six months of his sentence to be served in a halfway house, Miller said.
Miller said federal guidelines called for a sentence of 47 to 57 months. However, Miller said Kirkland avoided the harsher sentence because U.S. Judge James Nowlin was impressed by the outpouring of support for the 25-year-old.
Besides Miller testifying on Kirkland's behalf, so too did his promoter, Golden Boy's Oscar De La Hoya, who made the trip to Austin with others from the company.
"I told the judge that James made a stupid mistake that cost him dearly," De La Hoya told ESPN.com after leaving the hearing."I told the judge, yes, we all make mistakes and we all need role models. I want to take James under my wing and guide him. He's never had that before. The judge was great on giving him that time because he could have given him a lot longer."
Said Miller,"James is a great kid who needs another chance. He committed a stupid act but his benefit to society isn't going to be in prison. It's going to be in society as someone kids can look up to as a person who changed his life around and made something of himself. I think the judge took that into consideration.
"James took responsibility for his stupidity and his own actions and a judge likes to hear that. I've visited him three times and I think he gets it. His attention has been gotten. If he fights again, great. But learning from this is what it is all about."
Should Kirkland be released to halfway house, he would be able to train and fight, Miller said.
Kirkland (25-0, 22 KOs) was on the verge of a title shot after a series of impressive knockout performances on national television. He had become a significant fighter to HBO on its "Boxing After Dark" series and was supposed to fight on the high-profile Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton HBO PPV card on May 2 in Las Vegas.
However, a few weeks before the fight Kirkland was arrested after buying a gun at an Austin gun show, which he did with his own identification. The weapon was later discovered during a traffic stop. Because Kirkland was already on probation for a 2003 armed robbery conviction and barred from possessing a gun, his purchase was a serious offense.
De La Hoya said he planned to visit Kirkland in prison"sooner than later."
"I want to talk to him," De La Hoya said."He seems like a genuine kid. I believe when he bought that gun there were no bad intentions. He's a kid who was winning, fighting on HBO and making money and I think he figured he'd protect himself. 'I'm going to buy this gun with my own ID to protect myself.' I am sure he was thinking that."
De La Hoya, who said Kirkland looked like he weighed around 190 pounds at the sentencing, said he hoped Kirkland learns from this experience and that he could be fighting within a year.
"With time served, good behavior and a halfway house, we can fight him within the year," De La Hoya said."He's only 25. He did the crime, he's going to do the time. It's up to him after that."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
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