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June 18, 2009

One notable example of a pro athlete not getting a sentencing break (and of jury sentencing)

While lots of commentators are questioning the sentencing leniency shown to Donte Stallworth, this story from Texas provides evidence that former pro athletes do not always get sentencing breaks:

A former New York Yankees outfielder was sentenced to 45 years in prison Wednesday for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl in Tarrant County, ending what one prosecutor described as "a reign of terror over girls."

Although Mel Hall Jr., 48, was convicted only in the case of the 12-year-old, whom he had coached in basketball in the late 1990s, four more women testified during the trial’s punishment phase that he had victimized them, too, in the past two decades. Hall coached three in either basketball or softball. The fourth was a former Connecticut woman who had a four-year relationship with Hall that began when she was 15 and he was playing for the Yankees....

Among the interesting aspects of this story is that Texas uses jury sentencing even for a non-capital case like this one:

Jurors who had deliberated 90 minutes to find Hall guilty took even less time — 75 minutes — to decide his sentence Wednesday. Hall received 40 years in prison on each of three counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child, and five years each on the two counts of indecency with a child....

Defense attorney Brady Wyatt expressed disappointment after the trial. "For all the good that this man has done in his life, it’s an excessive sentence," he said. "For all the people he’s positively affected — it doesn’t seem the jury took that into adequate consideration."...

On Tuesday, jurors had heard from two other women — another basketball teammate of the girl, who said Hall had sex with her when she was 14 (charges are pending in that case) and a woman who said that Hall, in 1989, began a public relationship with her when she was 15. Her prom picture with Hall was featured in a Yankees player yearbook.

Several witnesses and a love letter introduced into evidence also alluded to a relationship Hall had with a 17-year-old girl after he was arrested in June 2007. "What was his weapon? Trust," D’Avignon told jurors in closing arguments. "Over and over again, he shook the hand of a parent and said, 'It’s OK. I’ll take care of them. I’ll make her a better person.’ Instead what he did was rob them of their innocence and change the scope of their lives."

Wyatt had asked jurors to sentence Hall to probation or a minimal prison sentence, reminding them of witnesses, including Hall’s ex-wife and two of his daughters, who described him as a good father, coach and man. "He’s not the guy jumping out from behind a corner with a knife and sticking it to your throat. He’s not the guy pulling the trigger in the 7-Eleven, ending somebody’s life," Wyatt said. "He’s not the guy hiding in the back seat of a woman’s car to assault her. He’s not that guy."

Then prosecutor Christy Jack rose to tell jurors that Wyatt was "exactly right." "And that is why he is so much more dangerous — because he’s Mel Hall," Jack said. "Flamboyant. Charismatic. Everybody idolizes him. "That’s what makes him so very dangerous because you don’t see him coming, and parents are unsuspecting, and he preys on that time after time after time," she said.

June 18, 2009 at 09:21 AM | Permalink


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As I've said before, it is ironic that much of Texas law and procedure, despite its reputation for draconian sentences, includes aspects that have been considered too pro-defendant for the federal system. For example:

-- a right to jury sentencing in all felonies

-- crack sentenced on par (by weight) with powder cocaine

-- parole eligibility after 25% of time served in most cases (50% with a weapon enhancement)

-- nearly all cases are probation-eligible

Posted by: Mark Osler | Jun 18, 2009 2:35:55 PM

I've often pondered how the Texas criminal justice system arrived at where it is now from where it obviously came from. The procedural and substantive criminal laws were written by a legislature that at the time actually believed in due process, presumption of innocence, lenity and a level playing field at trial. Until the early 1990s, the appellate courts reviewed convictions with a fair and balanced eye.
Currently, whenever the legislature meets, they set about incrementally chipping away at the "outdated" laws which stand in the way of the easy conviction freight train. One must give thanks that they meet only in odd number years. The elected appellate courts have long become the bastion of ex-prosecutors and other "tuff-on-crime" sound-bite artists who rarely see any other kind of trial error but "harmless." We work with what we have.

Posted by: Mark#1 | Jun 18, 2009 4:52:30 PM

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