ROCKVILLE -- A Montgomery County judge sentenced boxer Mike Tyson to two years in jail yesterday for attacking two motorists last summer "in a dramatic example, a tragic example of potentially lethal road rage."
A loud groan went up among the 200 people in the courtroom as Judge Stephen Johnson announced his decision: two years on each count of second-degree assault to be served concurrently, with a year suspended on each -- amounting to a one-year sentence.
Tyson was taken from the room in handcuffs, with his wife sobbing quietly in the first row of spectators.
The 32-year-old former champion is being held in the county detention center without bond until his lawyers can decide whether to file an appeal on Monday.
Tyson pleaded no contest to charges that he punched one man in the face and kicked another in the groin after a fender-bender in Gaithersburg on Aug. 31.
He did not speak during the 3 1/2-hour hearing, but handed Johnson a letter that the judge read aloud. "Jail would mean I lose everything," the letter concluded. "Please be fair with me."
Monica Tyson, his wife, pleaded for leniency: "My husband is a good-hearted person. He does not deserve even one minute in jail," she said. "He had no intention of hurting these gentlemen."
His lawyers portrayed a man suffering from chronic depression who needs to box to support his family and pay off a mountain of debt.
Despite a $10 million purse in his last fight, Tyson owes the Internal Revenue Service millions of dollars in back taxes, $6 million to former trainer Kevin Rooney to pay a breach of contract judgment, and liens on all his homes.
His manager, Sheldon Finkel, testified that Tyson needed three or four more fights this year to eliminate his debt.
Attorney Robert Greenberg told Johnson that placing Tyson in jail would almost certainly create "a chain of events that could lead to catastrophe for Mike Tyson."
Tyson might be found in violation of probation and be required to serve the remaining four years of a prison term on a 1992 rape conviction in Indiana. Tyson was released in 1995 after serving three years of a reduced 10-year sentence, and his probation was set to expire in March.
The sentence also could lead to a review of Tyson's boxing license by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which reinstated the fighter in October after a one-year suspension for biting Evander Holyfield's ears during a fight in June 1997.
"It would be a real death sentence," Finkel said of more jail time. "At the age of 32, you're on the down side, not the up side of your career. You have about another year or so."
But prosecutor Carol Crawford said the case "isn't about commerce." She said accidents like the one involving Tyson, Richard Hardick and Abmielec Saucedo in evening rush hour are common, but rarely end with violence.
Monica Tyson was stopped at a light when her Mercedes-Benz was bumped from behind by Hardick's car, which was then bumped by Saucedo's car.
Mike Tyson, riding in the passenger seat, jumped out and confronted the men. He struck Saucedo, 62, in the face and kicked the 50-year-old Hardick in the groin.
The altercation ended when Tyson's bodyguard and wife pulled him away. The Tysons drove off in search of Shady Grove Adventist Hospital after the boxer complained of chest pain.
Hardick and Saucedo filed civil suits against Tyson but later settled their cases. Yesterday, their lawyers told the judge that they did not want Tyson to go to jail on the criminal charges.
In trying to soften Tyson's image, the defense called as witnesses directors of two social service agencies where the boxer had recently volunteered, and they showed videotapes of him working with troubled youngsters.
Defense lawyer Paul Kemp urged the judge to order Tyson to perform community service rather than sentence him to jail.
But Johnson said he was troubled that Tyson attacked "not young, strong or vigorous people."
In addition to the jail time, Johnson ordered Tyson to pay a $5,000 fine and perform 200 hours of community service.
State's Attorney Douglas Gansler said Tyson would most likely serve six or seven months in the county jail before being transferred to a pre-release center.
"He'll be able to fight again, probably before the end of the year," Gansler said.
Tyson's Maryland lawyers, with their client last night, did not comment. But Jim Jimmerson, Tyson's lead attorney at the Nevada hearing, told the Associated Press, "I think the sentence is totally and completely unexpected and unduly harsh. There's going to be a careful review of his options, including perhaps requesting a new trial in Maryland."
Pub Date: 2/06/99