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Floyd Mayweather’s Legal Defense Put to the Test

Floyd_Mayweather_02_H1.jpg
Floyd_Mayweather_02_H1.jpg

By Ryan Maquiñana


Parrying.  Pick-sticks.  Pulchritude in the pocket.

 

Throughout his career, Floyd Mayweather’s trademark has been his impenetrable defense.

 

Now more than ever, he’s going to need to employ his famous shoulder roll in a Nevada courtroom to slip some hard time behind bars after running afoul of the law on the morning of Sept. 9.

 

(Read the actual police arrest report here.)

 

To summarize the report, Mayweather and associate James McNair allegedly entered the Las Vegas residence of ex-girlfriend Josie Harris, the mother of two of his four children, without permission. Mayweather then purportedly took Harris’ cell phone, beat her, and threatened their two young sons with physical harm if they were to tell anyone. 

 

After Mayweather and McNair departed and police arrived, she was brought to a hospital, treated for “minor injuries,” and released.


As a result, the prospect of an ethereal super-fight with Manny Pacquiao is in the rear-view mirror; the former pound-for-pound king now finds himself embroiled in a few new battles with some formidable sluggers who only go by one name.

 

Robbery.  Larceny.  Coercion.

 

And those are just the felony counts. Throw in one count of misdemeanor domestic battery and another three counts of harassment, and Mayweather faces the prospect of serving a maximum sentence of 34 years. 

 

The self-christened “Money” man is looking at the prospect of spending quite a lot of it to pay for a legal team that will attempt to pluck him out of the fire.

 

With his arraignment date set for Nov. 9, the regular members of Team Mayweather (his uncle Roger, adviser Leonard Ellerbe, and Al Haymon) have given way to his new corner (Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys Karen Winckler and Richard Wright).  

 

One option in their game plan entails advising their client to accept a plea deal where he will plead guilty or “nolo contendere” (no-contest, which has the same immediate effect as a guilty plea) to some of the lesser charges. In return, the Clark County District Attorney might decide to drop some of the charges. 

 

Or, in a riskier move, Mayweather can plead not guilty to the charges and roll the dice by going to trial. 

 

In reality, it is this writer’s opinion that in deciding whether or not to go to trial, he’s fighting a three-front war: the actual charges, the prosecution, and his own public image.

 

In the same virtuoso manner he artfully dodged an estimated 70–punch flurry against Phillip N’dou in the fourth round of his 2003 lightweight title defense, it’s going to take a Houdini-like effort to keep Floyd Mayweather from escaping this debacle relatively pristine.

 

*     *     *

 

FRONT #1: The Actual Charges

 

Let’s break down each of the eight counts against Mayweather. 

 

He has been charged with four felony counts. The first two are of coercion. 

 

According to Las Vegas Township Justice Court documents (seen here), Mayweather is accused of “willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously us[ing] physical force, or the immediate threat of force, against (his ten-year-old son) Koraun Mayweather…by threatening to ‘beat’ him if he called 911 and/or left the residence.” 

 

The second coercion count is similar except that it applies to Mayweather’s alleged actions toward his other son at the scene, nine-year-old Zion.

 

The police arrest report states that during the struggle with Harris, Mayweather allegedly “turned to the kids and yelled at them that ‘he would beat their ass if they left the house or called the police.’ ” 

 

Further compounding the situation is that Koraun asserts on the report that McNair “was blocking the stairs,” forcing the child to run out the back of the house to seek help.

 

Because the penalty of a coercion conviction ranges from one to six years, if found guilty of one or both counts, Mayweather would be looking at a minimum of one year and a maximum of 12.

 

The third felony count is robbery. Here, Floyd is accused of “willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously tak[ing]…a cellular telephone, from the person of Josie Harris…by means of force or violence, or fear of injury to, and without the consent and against the will of the said Josie Harris.”

 

The arrest report states that Koraun “advised that he saw his dad was on his mother and was hitting and kicking her,” adding that “his father took his cell phone, his brother’s cell phone and his mother’s phone.”

 

A robbery conviction in this case would carry a sentence anywhere from two to 15 years.

 

The final felony count is grand larceny. Nevada law defines it as “willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously with intent to deprive the owner permanently thereof, steal, take, carry, lead, or drive away property having a value of $250.00 or more.”

 

Receipts attached to the arrest report show that Harris purchased the iPhone 4 in question in Raleigh, N.C., for $322.17.

 

The penalty for grand larceny is a one to five-year sentence.

 

What makes Team Mayweather’s task daunting is that even if they are fortunate to steer clear of any felony convictions, they will still have to deal with four other misdemeanor counts.

 

The first misdemeanor count is battery constituting domestic violence. He is accused of “willfully and unlawfully us[ing] force or violence against…Harris, by grabbing…[her]…by the hair and throwing her to the floor and/or striking her with a fist and/or twisting her arm.”

 

Harris states on the arrest report that “she awoke to Mayweather yelling at [her]” about whether she was intimately involved with another man named C.J, rumored to be NBA player C.J. Watson. 

 

When Harris confirmed the relationship, according to her, “Mayweather grabbed Harris by her hair and began striking her in the back of the head with a closed fist several times.”  She also asserts that Mayweather, with her hair still in his hand, pulled her off the couch and tried to “break her (left) arm by twisting it behind her back.”

 

That said, in Mayweather’s case, for a first offense of battery constituting domestic violence, a disposition of guilty or no contest would lead to a stint in county jail or a detention facility for a period of two days up to six months. He would also be forced to perform 48 to 120 hours of community service and pay a fine constituting anywhere between $200 and $1,000.

 

The final three misdemeanor counts deal with harassment, with one count focusing on each of his three alleged victims. 

 

One count involves “willfully and unlawfully threatening to cause bodily injury in the future to the person of Harris and/or her boyfriend, by threatening to kill…[her]…and/or her boyfriend and make her and/or her boyfriend ‘disappear.’ ”

 

The second and third harassment counts are identical but for the names of the two brothers, Koraun and Zion, for which their father is accused of issuing the same threat of bodily injury (to “beat their ass if they left the house or called the police”) in the future.

 

FRONT #2: The Clark County D.A. and Floyd’s Accusers

 

At this point, it’s certain that David Roger, the Clark County District Attorney, is mulling over the option of offering some sort of plea deal. With his November re-election campaign hanging in the balance a week before the arraignment date, a high-profile name like Mayweather’s would be the latest feather in the cap for an incumbent like Roger.

 

As his second term winds down, the D.A. has already obtained a conviction of Pro Football Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson for armed robbery, kidnapping, and conspiracy. Roger also recently shut down an appeal bid by Margaret “Black Widow” Rudin, who was convicted of killing her millionaire real estate magnate husband in a highly publicized ten-week trial. 

 

Both Simpson and Rudin are currently incarcerated for a period approaching double-digit years.

 

In fact, according to Roger’s website, since his arrival to the post in 2002, he has “increased the number of cases that go to trial by 50 percent.”

 

On the other hand, it must also be noted that just last week, Roger tendered a plea deal to celebrity Paris Hilton. The hotel heiress had a felony cocaine possession charge dropped in return for her agreement to plead guilty to two misdemeanors (drug possession and obstructing an officer). Hilton must also complete a drug abuse program, serve 200 hours of community service, and pay a fine of $2,000.

 

With those factors in play, it will be interesting to see which way the wind blows for Floyd.  However, three details might give us a clue that we might not even see a trial at all.

 

The first thing is the wide discrepancy between the bail amount to spring Mayweather from jail and the maximum prison time in the charges levied by the D.A.’s office. If Roger is pushing for a potential 34-year sentence, $3,000 seems a little inadequate to deter someone with Floyd’s resources to fly to a country where extradition would be tough. It should also be noted that Mayweather turned himself in, which could possibly mitigate any concerns about him being a flight risk.

 

Second, the parade of charges against Mayweather—eight counts in all—make for a situation akin to the D.A. swinging for the fences yet being content with a ground-rule double. 

 

If one were to take the arrest report at face value, the case against Mayweather would be strong.  However, it would be fallacious to assume that each of the eight counts is a slam dunk. Rather, it could be argued that the multitude of charges function to hopefully intimidate the five-time world champion into copping a plea. 

 

“I definitely think sometimes police overcharge athletes,” said attorney Huntley Johnson, whom the Orlando Sentinel reports has defended 22 out of 31 football players from the University of Florida who have been arrested under two-time national champion coach Urban Meyer’s watch. (Never mind that in his first press conference at UF in 2005, Meyer vowed to only recruit the “top one-percent of one-percent” of high-character kids, but I digress).  In cases involving athletes, many of the charges are dropped, Johnson added.

 

Team Mayweather will also enjoy an advantage due to the high burden of proof required to convict a defendant in criminal cases. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard.

 

One example of a shaky charge arises when applying the standard for grand larceny. Even if the D.A. can establish that Mayweather took the phone, it remains to be seen whether his intent was to permanently deprive Harris of the Apple product. Wright and Winckler could argue that Mayweather only meant to delete the address book on the phone and return it to Harris afterward.

 

The third and final factor that could potentially mitigate the D.A.’s willingness to pursue an all-out attack in a courtroom trial is Harris’ history on the stand.

 

In 2003, Harris charged Mayweather of felony domestic violence for purportedly hitting her outside of a Las Vegas nightclub. Much like the description in the Sept. 9 arrest report, Mayweather was accused of hitting Harris and pulling her hair.

 

However, while under oath, Harris retracted her allegations on the witness stand, reportedly calling Mayweather a “teddy bear inside” who would never put his hands on her. She further stated that she lied to the police because she was angry and suspected that Floyd had left her for another woman.

 

Mayweather was eventually acquitted.

 

Along the same lines, it will be fascinating to see the official medical reports regarding her “minor injuries.” Mayweather is a definite master at fisticuffs; surely a man considered at one time the best fighter in the sport would do some serious damage on another person’s head upon landing several punches. 

 

FRONT #3: His Public Image

 

Today, Floyd Mayweather calls southwest Las Vegas and Clark County his home. With his larger-than-life persona, getting from Point A to Point B without getting mobbed by fans is a daily challenge.

 

In a trial setting where Las Vegans will make up the jury that will decide Mayweather’s fate, his celebrity might actually be an albatross, since it would be more difficult than usual to find 12 locals without any prior knowledge about him that would affect their judgment in a prejudicial manner.

 

Also, as mentioned earlier, D.A. David Roger would relish nothing more than the numerous photo-ops and “perp walks” that usually coincide with a public figure’s conviction, especially someone with Mayweather’s recent history.

 

And even if Floyd were to take the plea deal, the subsequent damage control would be astounding. In all likelihood, his current endorsement deal with Reebok has a built-in morals clause, which if violated, would result in his termination. While he has not filmed any recent commercials with AT&T, chances are that the phone giant won’t come calling for quite a while.

 

In the business world, goodwill is defined as an intangible asset of a company. A buyer is often willing to overpay to acquire a business due to its good name, in addition to the fair market value of its assets. 

 

There’s a reason why film director Kevin Smith’s Twitter tirade against Southwest Airlines earlier this year failed to torpedo the company’s long-term stock value or public perception. Loyal customers even contacted Smith to defend the low-budget airline. With its renowned commitment to excellent service, Southwest has earned the public’s trust even in the midst of brief lapses in judgment.

 

The last three years have been a boon for Floyd Mayweather at the box office. His last four fights have generated approximately 5.7 million pay-per-view buys, and his latest unanimous decision victory over Shane Mosley in May netted the Las Vegas native around $40 million.

 

Considering the potential ugliness that customarily accompanies celebrity trials, what transpires from here on out will test the true value of the Mayweather franchise. 

 

Oscar De La Hoya and Mike Tyson transcended boxing. Neither fishnets nor Zoloft prescriptions were enough to blunt their crossover appeal. Long after their skills deteriorated and they were past their respective primes, nothing kept the two future Hall of Famers from selling out arenas or filling television screens.

 

While social networking sites and boxing chat rooms continue to keep Mayweather in the list of hot topics, the question remains whether the casual fan—the independent voter of the sport—will continue to shell out $59.99 to watch him face a non-marquee opponent in his next pay-per-view bout. 

 

Political capital, goodwill’s doppelgänger, is analogous to a free pass, based on a person’s reputation that has been stored away until times of need.

 

For instance, President Barack Obama’s approval ratings in the latest Gallup Poll are at their lowest, and yet, they’re still a whopping 13 percentage points higher than George W. Bush’s final ratings as commander-in-chief. Why? 

 

It’s hard to be disillusioned when “Yes We Can” is still somewhat fresh in the public’s minds; from a less subjective point of view, Obama hasn’t even finished his first term (If the new health care bill and the economy flounder, however, he’s going to need some goodwill overdraft protection).

 

Unfortunately for Floyd, he faces a tall order if he hopes to pull the “Get Out of Jail Free” card from the top of the Community Chest pile.

 

During his self-aggrandizing stints on HBO’s “24/7” documentary series, Mayweather openly lamented that the cameras consistently catch his bad side, and that they refrain from covering his charitable deeds through the Floyd Mayweather Foundation. 

 

It’s indisputable that he has done himself few favors to garner any fair and balanced coverage as of late. 

 

Whether it was his profanity-laced outbursts opposite De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton in previous training camps, or his $6.17 million IRS lien for failing to pay his back taxes before his comeback fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, Mayweather has all but pressed a self-destruction button and taken a sledgehammer to his own name. 

 

One would also be remiss not to mention his ten-minute reprehensible racist and homophobic rant attacking Manny Pacquiao.

 

In his now infamous invective toward the Filipino superstar, Mayweather stated, “We’re going to cook that little yellow chump…with some cats and dogs…once I stomp the midget, I’ll make that motherf**ker make me a sushi roll and cook me some rice. Step your game up, f**got.”

 

After the media backlash flooded the airwaves and World Wide Web, he hastily feigned a half-hearted apology in which he failed to address the man at whom he directed the vitriol.

 

But recovery doesn’t come that easy with Mayweather’s excess baggage in tow. Ask Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, Al Campanis, and John Rocker if they had any political capital to cash in after their notorious diatribes destroyed their respective careers. 

 

Nevertheless, Floyd’s insatiable desire to be in the headlines will continue to be fulfilled next month, albeit for the wrong reasons, once more. His uncle and trainer, Roger Mayweather, will try his luck in a Clark County court on October 25 after pleading not guilty to felony battery charges; he allegedly choked and punched his former pupil, female boxer Melissa St. Vil.

 

Moreover, in February 2011, Floyd might actually take the witness stand in a Las Vegas court, but not regarding his own case. Chances are strong that—surprise—the Clark County D.A. will serve him with a subpoena to testify in a trial where his alleged associate, Ocie Harris (no relation to Josie), has been indicted for attempted murder and assault charges. 

 

On Aug. 23, Harris purportedly fired six shots at a BMW convertible with two people inside after they exchanged words with Mayweather outside the Crystal Palace Skating Center. District Court Judge Elissa Cadish set bail at a combined $140,000 on all charges. According to court documents, Mayweather has denied “knowing an Ocie Harris.”

 

In sum, there are enough transgressions and controversial moments on Floyd’s docket to set up a diorama exhibit of them at the Madame Tussauds on The Strip. And if you believe that he’s a five-time victim of circumstance, then he would have to be the unluckiest man on the planet, something most people wouldn’t expect to befall someone Forbes named the sixth-highest paid athlete in sports.

 

To say that Mayweather’s publicist Kelly Swanson has her work cut out for her would be like asserting that Thomas Hearns’ right cross had a little snap to it.

 

THE DECISION

 

With that said, Mayweather’s best option might still be to duck the courtroom because his legal team will not find the going as easy this time around.

 

If the defense were to assail his ex-girlfriend’s credibility as a witness to sway the jury, they risk possibly opening the door for the prosecution to re-route their questioning to establish Floyd’s motive. For instance, the D.A. could slyly find a way to remind jurors that although Mayweather was absolved of domestic violence charges involving Harris, he was not as lucky in two separate incidents with the law.

 

In March 2002, only a year before his ex-girlfriend’s flip-flop on the stand, Mayweather pleaded guilty to two domestic violence counts. The victim in the case was Melissa Brim, the mother of his daughter Ayanna.

 

“He opened my car door and punched me in the face,” Brim informed the Grand Rapids Press two days after the incident. “He must have hit me five or six times on top of my head or on my back.” The newspaper reported that Mayweather pleaded guilty to battery charges involving Brim’s father as well.

 

That same year, Mayweather was convicted of misdemeanor battery resulting from a fight with two women at Las Vegas nightclub Ra. According to ESPN, Herneatha McGill and Kaara Blackburn testified Mayweather punched the former on the cheek, and then punched the latter on the back of the head as she tended to her friend who was on the ground. 

 

Justice of the Peace Deborah Lippis gave Mayweather a one-year suspended jail sentence and ordered him to undergo impulse-control counseling, stating, “You may be a terrific and famous fighter but that doesn’t make you a god.”

 

In February 2005, Mayweather was fined in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich. and ordered to perform community service after pleading no-contest to misdemeanor assault and battery for his role in a bar fight.

 

In a trial setting, the prosecution will undoubtedly look for any excuse to bring up Mayweather’s checkered criminal record and the D.A. will not hesitate to paint “Pretty Boy” Floyd in a public, unflattering way.

 

Moreover, certain past guilty pleas, especially ones involving suspended sentences, can be factored into the severity of a sentence if the court moves to convict a defendant.

 

Most of all, whether or not Mayweather elects to take the stand, by disputing the police arrest report, he will be pitting his word against his son’s. 

 

If Floyd truly believes in his heart that the report is false, then he has every right to stand up for himself.

 

But he will soon find out that in contrast to one of his signature irreverent verbal lobs at his opponents, the message he sends here will be delivered from a father to his son, one who isn’t even old enough for middle school.

 

That’s not an easy decision to make.

 

If you ask this writer, I think Team Mayweather will work out a plea deal that will allow Floyd to pivot away from most (if not all) felony convictions or extensive jail time. For example, the judge can give him concurrent sentences; in other words, he can be convicted of two counts of coercion but serve each period of incarceration simultaneously.

 

The judge would also have the discretion to suspend certain sentences barring future contact with law enforcement. In addition, taking a plea deal will take him out of the predicament of opposing his children in a heated trial.

 

The misdemeanor battery constituting domestic violence looks like the fulcrum on which the case will turn because the charge is not a felony, yet the D.A. will at least get to claim a political victory with a conviction. David Roger might even insist that Mayweather plead guilty to the additional three harassment misdemeanor charges but the battery is probably the key.

 

With public scrutiny heightened in an election year, I don’t think Roger wants to come out of the courtroom empty-handed.

 

I could be wrong but I would be shocked if his sentence exceeded a range of two days to one year in jail, 120 hours of community service (possibly through the Floyd Mayweather Foundation), a $1,000 fine, and three years probation.

 

From a boxing perspective, Floyd is now 33. He’s the most technically gifted fighter in the world but he’s not getting any younger.

 

Regardless of what happens in November, self-inflicted wounds have engulfed Mayweather’s family life and public image. Adding insult to injury, Pacquiao, the opponent who would have defined his career, will ironically earn another eight-figure payday the week of Mayweather’s arraignment.

 

The whole ordeal makes one almost feel sorry for Mayweather, if not incredulously inquisitive. If myriad wealth, ubiquitous fame, and the love of his children aren’t enough to make a man content with his life, then what will?

 

The undefeated fighter has often boasted, “41 have tried to beat Floyd Mayweather and 41 have failed.”

 

It’s still anyone’s guess what the final scorecard will read this time.

 

Ryan can be reached at rmaquinana@gmail.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/rmaq28.

 



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