Disgraced Marion Jones Sentenced to Six Months

Track star Marion Jones was sentenced Friday to six months in prison for lying about using steroids, and two months concurrently for her role in a check-fraud scheme. The sentencing judge said Jones' punishment should send a message to athletes who cheat with performance-enhancing drugs.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Marion Jones was the darling of the 2000 Summer Olympics, winning five medals and winning over fans. Today, her fall from grace has a hard ending. Jones was sentenced to six months in prison for lying about her use of banned performance enhancing drugs and her knowledge of an illegal check-cashing scheme. Jones has until March 11th to turn herself in.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: This morning, in a New York federal courtroom, Marion Jones ran into one tough judge. Jones and her lawyers pleaded for leniency - no prison, but probation, perhaps home confinement. Jones asked Judge Kenneth Karas that she not be separated from her two young boys even for a short period of time. I ask you, she said, to be as merciful as a human being can be. Prosecutors had recommended zero jail time to six months in prison, and Karas went with the maximum. He also sentenced Jones to two years probation.

Karas said he wanted to send a message of deterrence to athletes. "They have an elevated status," he was quoted as saying. "They entertain, they inspire, and perhaps most important, they serve as role models."

Courtroom observers said Jones cried after being sentenced. Outside the courthouse, she said she was extremely disappointed.

Ms. MARION JONES (Athlete): 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 orders, and I would truly hope that people learn from my mistakes.

GOLDMAN: U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive officer Jim Scherr said in a statement, the sentence shows how far-reaching and serious the consequences of cheating can be. But in fact, Marion Jones is not going to prison because she cheated; it's because she lied. In 2003, she was asked by federal agents whether she had taken banned performance enhancing drugs, and she said no. In her guilty plea last October, she admitted she had taken banned drugs. Subsequent documents filed in court showed she used drugs extensively before, during and after the 2000 Sydney Olympics, something she'd always publicly denied. She also lied to agents about whether she knew that former track star Tim Montgomery, the father of her oldest child, was involved in an illegal check-cashing scheme. Montgomery has been convicted for his involvement.

Adam Nelson is an Olympic shot putter who won the silver medal at the 2000 games. He says he'd like to believe today's sentence will act as a deterrent against doping by athletes.

Mr. ADAM NELSON (Athlete): But I think the message that this sends is that if you get caught, you shouldn't lie. The real message that we need to send to athletes is that if you get caught cheating, you're going to go to jail.

GOLDMAN: Harsh perhaps, but Nelson says doping by a small number of celebrity athletes has a huge ripple effect. All athletes in a sport, like track and field, become suspect even though the majority, he believes, are clean. And Nelson says the athletes who competed against Jones and finished behind her are directly affected.

Mr. NELSON: She has taken money away, not just from the athletes that's she's beat in prize money and - but she's also taken away from the opportunity of other athletes to make that living in the terms of taking away sponsorships, taking away endorsement deals, taking away appearances.

GOLDMAN: The International Olympic Committee is trying to figure out how to redistribute the three gold and two bronze medals Jones won in Sydney, which she has returned. There's also a dispute over whether or not her relay teammates from the 2000 games have to give their medals back as well.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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Olympian Jones Sentenced to Six Months in Jail

Disgraced track star Marion Jones, who returned her Olympic medals last year in a stunning admission of steroid use, was sentenced on Friday to six months in prison for lying to investigators about the performance-enhancing drugs.

The judge sentenced Jones despite her plea that he not separate her from her two sons, "even for a short period of time."

"I ask you to be as merciful as a human being can be," she said.

Jones, 31, cried on the shoulder of her husband after learning her fate.

The sentence in a White Plains, N.Y., federal court follows her tearful guilty plea in October to using banned performance-enhancement drugs. At the time, she apologized, retired and gave back her five Olympic medals. Jones also admitted then that she lied about a check-fraud scheme.

Her attorneys petitioned District Judge Kenneth Karas for a sentence of probation or perhaps home confinement rather than jail time, arguing that she had been punished enough.

Karas, however, asked her lawyers to advise him about whether he could go beyond the six-month maximum that was suggested in her plea deal. He also wanted to know whether he could sentence Jones separately for the steroids and check-fraud convictions. Both sides advised against it.

Jones was once among the most celebrated female athletes in the world. A runner and long jumper, she won three gold and two bronze medals at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Those victories were achieved with the help of steroids — although she told a federal investigator in November 2003 that she didn't use any.

Jones was among athletes who testified before a grand jury in 2003 in an investigation into BALCO, a lab at the center of the steroids scandal in professional sports. She also sued BALCO founder Victor Conte after he repeatedly accused her of using performance-enhancing drugs and said he watched her inject herself.

But at her October plea, prosecutors said that a 2003 search warrant at BALCO uncovered ledgers, purchases, doping calendars and various blood-test results connected to Jones and former coach Trevor Graham.

She later confessed to doping "several times before the Sydney Olympics and continued using it after."

Jones returned her Olympic medals — gold in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 1,600-meter relay; and bronzes in the long jump and 400-meter relay — before the International Olympic Committee ordered her to do so and wiped her records from the books.

She also confessed that she lied about knowledge of Tim Montgomery's involvement in a scheme to cash millions of dollars worth of stolen or forged checks. Montgomery is the father of Jones' older son.

Montgomery and several others have been convicted in that scam. They include former Olympic champion Steve Riddick, who was to be sentenced later Friday.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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