Money talks - Justice walks

How does a court arrive at a 30 day sentence for someone who was driving drunk and killed a pedestrian? Simple: the drunk-driver arrives at a multi-million dollar settlement with the family of the deceased.

When Cleveland Browns running back Donte Stallworth left a party at the Fountainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach with a snootful of booze in his bloodstream, he risked the lives of anyone who might venture out into the roadway as he was cruising along with impaired reflexes. Sadly, 59 year-old Mario Reyes, on his way home after working all night at his construction job, ended up in the path of Stallworth's Bentley and got mowed down.

Reyes was heading for a bus stop because he couldn't afford a car. Last year, Stallworth signed a 7 year, $35 million contract with a $4.75 million dollar signing bonus. Although charged with DUI Manslaughter for the March 14 incident, the 28 year-old wide receiver pled guilty in a plea-bargain agreement last week that included a "confidential" financial settlement with the Reyes family.

The "bargain" also included 30 days (24 days with good behavior) in jail, 1000 hours of community service, drug and alcohol testing and a lifetime suspension of his driver's license. However, Stallworth's attorney said his client could be approved for limited driving after 5 years.

As if that wasn't severe enough punishment for merely taking a life, when he gets released from his three and a half weeks in the Big House, he must serve two years of house (read mansion?) arrest and spend eight years on probation.

None of the foregoing will prevent him from resuming his football career, said his mouthpiece. Without the plea deal he could have served 15 years in prison and said goodbye to his sports career along with about $40 million bucks.

So, here we have another situation in which money trumps justice. I have no doubt that the Reyes family suffered the painful and sudden loss of a loved one, but it seems evident that their suffering has been eased by the curative balm of a burgeoning bank account.

Although none of the grieving family members attended the hearing, their attorney gave that all too familiar statement about "bringing closure to an emotional and tragic event." What part of the punishment brought closure? Were they content with the slap on the wrist of the guy who recklessly killed a loved one, or, was it a 7-figure settlement that turned their grief to gratitude? Did the family decide that the breadwinner was gone anyway, so why not make the loss marketable?

Of course, the gridiron star provided the judge with the same old hackneyed promises made by every DUI killer, about getting involved in drunken driving education programs. In addition, he made the obligatory mea culpa that has become a substitute for any real sense of atonement. "I accept full responsibility for this horrible tragedy," Stallworth said. Really? How big of him! Who else could possibly take responsibility? You would think he was insinuating that someone else was driving, but that he decided to take the heat for him.

 In fact, he's not taking responsibility for what he did; he's buying his way out of it. Let's face it; if he was making a couple of hundred a week and driving an old Plymouth after leaving a local bar, he'd be toast! His defense would come from a legal aid attorney with about 3 hours of courtroom experience and the victim's family would be screaming for his blood. Instead, Stallworth gets to write a big check to the family (and their attorney), his attorney basks in a legal victory, accompanied by fruitful compensation, and the guy who made a fortune by running a pigskin to the goal line, goes on to score more points for his team in the coming years.

The forgotten person in all of this is the guy whose life was snuffed out by a drunk driver. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) didn't forget; they rejected a sizable contribution from Stallworth who, evidently, figured he could buy them off too. Two days after the hearing, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he was suspending Stallworth indefinitely. I wonder if indefinitely means until the start of this year's NFL season. Think about it; if he can't play, he might lose that huge salary and bonus.

That can't be allowed to happen because there are too many people depending on that money. Mario Reyes' life and any meaningful sense of justice were traded for it.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.
How does a court arrive at a 30 day sentence for someone who was driving drunk and killed a pedestrian? Simple: the drunk-driver arrives at a multi-million dollar settlement with the family of the deceased.

When Cleveland Browns running back Donte Stallworth left a party at the Fountainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach with a snootful of booze in his bloodstream, he risked the lives of anyone who might venture out into the roadway as he was cruising along with impaired reflexes. Sadly, 59 year-old Mario Reyes, on his way home after working all night at his construction job, ended up in the path of Stallworth's Bentley and got mowed down.

Reyes was heading for a bus stop because he couldn't afford a car. Last year, Stallworth signed a 7 year, $35 million contract with a $4.75 million dollar signing bonus. Although charged with DUI Manslaughter for the March 14 incident, the 28 year-old wide receiver pled guilty in a plea-bargain agreement last week that included a "confidential" financial settlement with the Reyes family.

The "bargain" also included 30 days (24 days with good behavior) in jail, 1000 hours of community service, drug and alcohol testing and a lifetime suspension of his driver's license. However, Stallworth's attorney said his client could be approved for limited driving after 5 years.

As if that wasn't severe enough punishment for merely taking a life, when he gets released from his three and a half weeks in the Big House, he must serve two years of house (read mansion?) arrest and spend eight years on probation.

None of the foregoing will prevent him from resuming his football career, said his mouthpiece. Without the plea deal he could have served 15 years in prison and said goodbye to his sports career along with about $40 million bucks.

So, here we have another situation in which money trumps justice. I have no doubt that the Reyes family suffered the painful and sudden loss of a loved one, but it seems evident that their suffering has been eased by the curative balm of a burgeoning bank account.

Although none of the grieving family members attended the hearing, their attorney gave that all too familiar statement about "bringing closure to an emotional and tragic event." What part of the punishment brought closure? Were they content with the slap on the wrist of the guy who recklessly killed a loved one, or, was it a 7-figure settlement that turned their grief to gratitude? Did the family decide that the breadwinner was gone anyway, so why not make the loss marketable?

Of course, the gridiron star provided the judge with the same old hackneyed promises made by every DUI killer, about getting involved in drunken driving education programs. In addition, he made the obligatory mea culpa that has become a substitute for any real sense of atonement. "I accept full responsibility for this horrible tragedy," Stallworth said. Really? How big of him! Who else could possibly take responsibility? You would think he was insinuating that someone else was driving, but that he decided to take the heat for him.

 In fact, he's not taking responsibility for what he did; he's buying his way out of it. Let's face it; if he was making a couple of hundred a week and driving an old Plymouth after leaving a local bar, he'd be toast! His defense would come from a legal aid attorney with about 3 hours of courtroom experience and the victim's family would be screaming for his blood. Instead, Stallworth gets to write a big check to the family (and their attorney), his attorney basks in a legal victory, accompanied by fruitful compensation, and the guy who made a fortune by running a pigskin to the goal line, goes on to score more points for his team in the coming years.

The forgotten person in all of this is the guy whose life was snuffed out by a drunk driver. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) didn't forget; they rejected a sizable contribution from Stallworth who, evidently, figured he could buy them off too. Two days after the hearing, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he was suspending Stallworth indefinitely. I wonder if indefinitely means until the start of this year's NFL season. Think about it; if he can't play, he might lose that huge salary and bonus.

That can't be allowed to happen because there are too many people depending on that money. Mario Reyes' life and any meaningful sense of justice were traded for it.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.