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.