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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Former NFL runningback Travis Henry gets 3 years in federal prison for drug dealing

Henry's story is a tragic one:

A federal judge Wednesday sentenced former NFL player Travis Henry to three years in prison for financing a drug ring that moved cocaine between Colorado and Montana. Henry, 30, of Frostproof, Fla., was arrested by federal drug agents last October — just a few months after the running back’s release from the Denver Broncos.

He pleaded guilty in April to a single count of conspiracy to traffic cocaine. In handing down Wednesday’s sentence, U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull in Billings also gave Henry five years of probation and recommended he enter a 500-hour drug treatment program.

Completion of the treatment program could knock off up to a year from Henry’s sentence. His attorney, Harvey Steinberg, said that with additional time off for good behavior Henry could be out of prison within 16 months.

Henry has said that at the time of his arrest, he was struggling to keep up with child support payments after fathering at least nine children with nine women. But Cebull said it was Henry’s addiction to marijuana that destroyed the his career and ultimately landed him in federal court.

“This is a unique case in that you’re a unique individual. You’re a heck of a football player,” Cebull said. “You are not unique in this sense: your drug habit.” Cebull and the defense described Henry as a minor player in the Denver cocaine ring and said he had been ensnared in the conspiracy by a friend....

Defense attorney Steinberg had asked for leniency and said Henry turned to cocaine trafficking out of desperation. He said Henry went into a “downward spiral” after losing $40,000 in drug proceeds that were stolen from a house in Billings.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard argued for a sentence of at least 33 months. “Mr. Henry did have it all, in a sense, and he lost it. That’s unfortunate,” Thaggard said. “The bottom line is this was a significant conspiracy to move a substantial quantity of drugs.”

A lot of people complain about the inconsistency in these sentences between guys like Henry and Vick on the one hand, and Dante Stallworth -- who is already out of jail -- on the other, keeping in mind that only the latter recklessly killed a human, not that the other two have not committed serious crimes. But the thread is easy to explain: Henry and Vick were sentenced in federal court, where the sentences are almost uniformly harsh (think Bernie Madoff receiving a sentence four or fives times his life expectancy). And, under the advisory Guidelines, there is some, but not a ton, of wiggle room.

Stallworth on the other hand was sentenced in state court, where the rules vary and all bets can be off. Part of the chagrin by people complaining about the inconsistency is the unreasonable expectation that sentences will be consistent across the country. Yet maybe that's not so unreasonable, and our sentencing should be brought into line.

The one counterpoint is Plaxico Burress, who faces a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in a state proceeding (whether he believes it or not). But again this is just another brand of the same problem: the harsh and high mandatory minimum sentences, that themselves can create inconsistencies. Plaxico faces years of jail time for carrying a gun (something many people believe is a fundamental individual right), while Stallworth is in and out in the blink of an eye after killing someone while engaging in maybe the most fatal and reckless behavior around: drunk driving.

I note this because if there is any good that can come from these horrible stories about people like Travis Henry going from NFL player to penitentiary all-star is that maybe people can begin to understand why these strange inconsistencies exist. It took me quite some time to see them.


AA said...

Plaxico discharged a firearm in a club! He wasn't simply carrying a gun. This is a very serious incident that should be punished harshly. It's a big responsibility to carry a gun. He's just lucky no one got hurt.

Chris said...

True, but he was only charged with possession; the discharge was just evidence of that possession.

loneweasel said...


It's kinda important in American jurisprudence.

Henry damn well intended to traffic cocaine.

Vick damn well intended to organize and finance an interstate gambling ring.

Stallworth did not intend to kill that guy (who was a jaywalker in a six lane highway, that's kinda important too).

"while engaging in maybe the most fatal and reckless behavior around: drunk driving."

Whoa. Let's not go overboard here.

Yrro said...

And also add, in stallworth's defense, that he was not extremely drunk, and the person he hit was also drunk and acting recklessly. It is not entirely clear that Stallworth would have been able to miss the man had he not been drinking.

I would say that in most of these cases, the judge was able to look at the case in light of intent and actual damages and come up with a reasonable verdict. Most cases that get a lot of press about being unreasonable seem unreasonable because we don't have all the facts that the judge and jury did at the time of the trial - the remainder are a result of bad lawyers.

Or, in Plaxico's case, a state that is so afraid of guns that it wants to *require* a man be put in jails for two years for accidentally hurting himself. In Ohio it is entirely reasonable that this might be pled down to a misdemeanor, or at worst a very mild felony.

Al said...


"while engaging in maybe the most fatal and reckless behavior around: drunk driving."

Whoa. Let's not go overboard here.

First, let us acquaint ourselves with some alarming statistics: 250,000 people have died in alcohol-related accidents in the past 10 years; 25,000 people die each year in alcohol related accidents; 500 people are killed weekly and 71 people daily in alcohol-related accidents; one American life is lost every 20 minutes in an alcohol-related car crash; and one out of every two Americans is likely to be involved in an alcohol-related accident in his lifetime. Every year, 708,000 persons are injured, 74,000 of them seriously, in alcohol-related crashes. About 2,000 people receive injuries each day in alcohol-related accidents.

I would say that Chris was dead on in his assesment.

Jim said...

This is not to defend Drunk Driving but the stats that Al stated are made up. The numbers from the NHTSA are 15,000 alcohol related deaths a year and the numbers have been pretty much steady the last 15 years. Never mind that the key word is related, meaning anyone that is suspected of drinking (or any male between the ages of 21 to 45 that died in a single car accident between 10pm and 5am) is counted say a passenger or a pedestrian. In the Stallworth case for example if he was stone cold sober and hit that same pedestrian it would count as a drunk driving fatality. The reason he was given what seems like a lite sentence is the states case was not that strong for anything more than DUI/DWI. At trail a jury might very well buy the argument that he assumed he was sober as his last drink was hours ago and he had a nights sleep or that his impairment had anything to do with the accident.

Plexico on the other hand is getting railroaded for political reasons. Anyone else with a similar employment and legal history would get a suspended sentence.