Ohio Athlete’s Sentence: No Prison, No Sports
CINCINNATI - Applause turned to gasps in a Butler County, Ohio, courtroom Thursday as a judge announced an unusual punishment for a Middletown track and football star.
Dwayne "Deejay" Hunter is forbidden from playing organized sports during his five-year probation for a felonious assault conviction.
"We're going to see who Dwayne Hunter the person is, not who Dwayne Hunter the star athlete is," declared Judge Andrew Nastoff, as he said Hunter still has a six-year prison sentence that would be imposed if he violates any conditions of his probation.
Nastoff had warned Hunter: "You're 19 years old. And you are standing right here, six inches away from a prison number and the potential to go away to prison for eight years - that's two presidential terms. You are right there," the judge said, drawing his index finger and thumb within an inch of each other.
Tension in the room rose.
Then the judge announced, "You are not going to prison today."
When at least a dozen supporters applauded and cheered, Nastoff quieted the crowd and told anyone who couldn't control themselves to leave.
Then he began outlining all the conditions of probation: no sports, not even intramurals; a $500 fine; 500 hours of community service, which can include his helping youngsters in Special Olympics, pee-wee football or other sports; plus 180 days in the Butler County Jail. With credit for time served, he will be released just before Thanksgiving.
Within 30 days of his release, Deejay Hunter must either obtain full-time employment or enroll in full-time schooling, Nastoff ordered, and also must attend counseling to address "personality and relationship issues" outlined in a mental health evaluator's report.
Nastoff said Hunter must make abiding by these rules his top priority. If he messes up even once, the judge vowed to send Hunter to prison.
Hunter, who pleaded guilty as charged in July, could have received up to eight years in prison for shooting a BB gun from a vehicle on a Middletown street in January, striking a 15-year-old boy in the face; one of the BBs struck the victim's eyelid.
"You were probably an inch away from blinding someone," the judge told Hunter.
Nastoff said the victim's family wrote to him and said that Hunter had served enough jail time. Nastoff said he wasn't sure he agreed with that sentiment.
"That's what kind of people they are. They're big people - big enough, in spite of what happened, to say maybe he's served enough punishment," Nastoff said.
Hunter, who wore No. 26 for the Middies at cornerback, attracted football scholarship offers from across the nation and had planned to sign a letter-of-intent with one of those colleges on national signing day, Feb. 4. Instead, he was sitting in jail.
"Virtually every Division I school was interested in him," said Hunter's attorney, Frank Schiavone.
In track, Hunter ran the 100-yard dash in 10.2 seconds - but missed competing in the state finals because he was locked up for violating terms of his bond in the BB gun incident.
Hunter, who graduated this spring, was also a good student, carrying a 3.4 grade-point average, Schiavone said.
Nastoff said the list of college scholarships meant nothing to him.
"Do you know what I care about? How are you going to live - are you going to shoot people in the face?" Nastoff asked.
Nastoff told Hunter he detected a possible "seed of empathy" because, among about a half-dozen speeches in court Thursday, "you were the only one that talked about what happened to the victim."
Nastoff said the sentence was crafted to force Hunter to learn vital life lessons.
"Find out who you really are without this whole aura of the athletics around you, because quite frankly in some ways it's made you a Frankenstein monster. It's made you think you're owed certain things," Nastoff said.
Before Nastoff's decision, Hunter grew emotional as he haltingly read a prepared statement, which read, in part: "I stand before our Lord in repentance and humiliation as I seek forgiveness from everyone. ... I truly apologize to you all."
Asked what he thought of the unusual, restrictive conditions Nastoff set - and whether he objected to them - Hunter's lawyer Schiavone replied: "If you don't like the terms of probation, you don't have to take them - you can go to prison."
Hunter is also scheduled to appear in Middletown's municipal court Friday to find out his punishment for misdemeanor assault and unlawful restraint charges that were filed in a May 9 after-prom party incident involving an ex-girlfriend.