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Monday, April 10, 2000 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | PREVIOUS: Thousands in Washington Kick Off IMF-World Bank...
2000-04-10

Latino Basketball Player Sentenced to Five Years for Elbowing Player

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This is how the New York Times put it.

Just over a year ago, 18 year-old Tony Limon was a proud senior starter for the Bobcats, the South San Antonio High School basketball team and weighing the offer of a college basketball scholarship. [includes rush transcript]

Today, he sits in a Bexar County jail cell waiting for a decision on whether a judge will reduce his five-year prison sentence for assault. Fourteen months ago, Limon threw an elbow into an opponent’s face in a basketball game, breaking the player’s nose. The severity of the sentence has surprised many involved in school sports. The incident took place in January 1999, in a game between South San Antonio High and East Central High School, also of San Antonio. A videotape shows Limon striking Brent Holmes, an East Central guard, and Holmes’ head snapping backward before he fell to the floor.

Guests:

  • Olivia Limon, mother of Tony Limon.
  • Carlos Uresti, lawyer for the Limon family and Texas State Representative.
  • Henry Rodriguez, Chapter director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, a civil rights group. Call: 210.286.5383.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, this is how the New York Times put it just a few weeks ago, with the headline "Basketball Player’s Foul Draws a Jail Term," it said, "Just over a year ago, 18 year-old Tony Limon was a proud senior starter for the Bobcats, the South San Antonio High School basketball team and weighing the offer of a college basketball scholarship.

"Today, he sits in a Bexar County jail cell waiting for a decision on whether a judge will reduce his five-year prison sentence for assault. Fourteen months ago, Limon threw an elbow into an opponent’s face in a basketball game, breaking the player’s nose. The severity of the sentence [for Tony] has surprised many involved in school sports."

The incident took place in January of '99 in a game between South San and East Central High School of San Antonio. A videotape shows Limon striking Brent Holmes, an East Central guard, late in the first half. and Holmes's head snapping backward before he fell to the floor. Brent Holmes is now a college student who plays football and baseball. And, again, Tony Limon sits in a county jail.

We’re joined right now by Tony’s mother, Olivia Limon, speaking to us from San Antonio, as well as her lawyer, Carlos Uresti. And we welcome you both to Democracy Now!

Olivia Limon, why don’t we talk about what happened that night and how Tony ended up in jail?

OLIVIA LIMON: Well, it was just a regular game, as usual, heated up, as usual. But, you know, it happened, and he’s apologized on numerous occasions, and so have I. And six months after that, we were informed that there had been a warrant for his arrest on that incident.

AMY GOODMAN: Six months later.

OLIVIA LIMON: Yes, ma’am. And thereafter, you know, it’s just been going to court back and forth. And then on February 7, the judge charged him, and they took him away from me.

AMY GOODMAN: Is Tony your only son?

OLIVIA LIMON: Yes, he is. I’m sorry. It’s just I’ve been under so much, and Tony’s a good kid. He’s always been a very good son, and he’s always done good. This is something that happened, and —

AMY GOODMAN: Olivia Limon, I’ll give you a minute to collect yourself. I know how hard this is for you. You get to see your son in the county jail, but it’s not where you expected to visit him.

Carlos Uresti is the Limon family lawyer. Can you explain how he drew such a serious sentence? I mean, I’m looking at this article, where you have people like Alton Ballard, Executive Director of the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, who said in his twenty-five years with the Association, "We’ve never seen a high school student or a college student charged for something they did during a sporting event."

REP. CARLOS URESTI: Good morning, Amy. I guess we have to look kind of at the timeline involved. And I think part of the problems or one of the factors that’s involved is the fact that Tony was on probation, deferred adjudication, which means there was no conviction, for an attempted burglary charge that occurred about twenty-five days before the basketball game. You know, he was placed on deferred adjudication, meaning basically, the judge says, "Look, Tony, you know, stay out of trouble. I’m going to put you on probation. At the end of the probationary period, if you don’t mess up, the case will be dismissed. Therefore, no conviction."

Tony had been on probation for about a year at the time of the sentencing for the assault case. And I’m not sure what the judge was considering, but it’s apparent from the record that he took into consideration the fact that Tony was on probation for the attempted burglary, although there was not a felony conviction at that time. And perhaps — and, of course, this is just in my personal opinion — that’s what influenced the judge’s decision. I would agree with, from my perspective, and being an attorney for about almost ten years, I’ve never seen a situation like this in those ten years.

AMY GOODMAN: Olivia Limon, Tony says that his coach — and other kids apparently heard this — said that at that point in the game — what does he quote him saying? — "it’s about time someone drew some blood." Is this the case?

OLIVIA LIMON: The people that were there, they said they heard him. We do have witnesses that did hear that statement.

AMY GOODMAN: Did Tony bring this up that night? I mean, some coaches do do that. They say, "Play rough." Did Tony raise this with the authorities, that he was following the orders of his coach?

OLIVIA LIMON: Tony looked at Durb as a father figure. There was nothing that Durb would tell Tony to do that Tony would not do.

AMY GOODMAN: The coach’s name is Gary Durbon.

OLIVIA LIMON: Yes. Tony was very close to Gary, and, like I said, Tony regarded Durb as a father figure. And, yes, Tony had told me on a bunch of occasions that all this roughness going on, and what he was instructed to do or not to do, so I was aware of the situation. But I’m sure most coaches, or some of them, have the same tactics. So, to me, you know, Tony himself had been a victim of having been elbowed in the face and been sent to the hospital with a head concussion a couple of months before or so, and, you know, to me, it’s just a physical contact game, and just take him to the hospital, get him taken care of and get back in the game. You know?

AMY GOODMAN: In the New York Times piece, two of Tony’s other players — Ray Pacheco said he remembered clearly what happened when the players returned to the huddle. After Holmes was hurt, the coach told Tony, "It’s about time someone drew some blood." Pacheco said that’s exactly what he said to him. And the other one, Richard Gonzalez, said, "Yeah, coach said it. He always encouraged people to play real tough, to play real physical."

So when it came time for the trial, which wasn’t before a jury — it that right? Just the judge decided?

OLIVIA LIMON: That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Was that weighed?

OLIVIA LIMON: No, it wasn’t. Nothing of that was brought up.

AMY GOODMAN: Has Coach Durbon stepped forward?

OLIVIA LIMON: No, he hasn’t. In fact, he’s denied everything.

AMY GOODMAN: I should say — yeah, actually, he’s quoted as saying, "He just made a mistake that night and went a little too far," talking about Tony. He said, "I don’t think Tony really intended to hurt anyone."

We are hoping to get a call from either the coach or the coach’s lawyer, but I don’t know if we will. They said if they agreed to come on, they would just give us a call.

So, right now, where is Tony Limon, your son?

OLIVIA LIMON: In jail.

AMY GOODMAN: Where?

OLIVIA LIMON: Bexar County, far as I know.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you get to see him?

OLIVIA LIMON: I get to see him during the week, for fifteen minutes.

AMY GOODMAN: Once a week, for fifteen minutes?

OLIVIA LIMON: No, they allow you — it goes alphabetically, so because of his last name, I can visit Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are you waiting for the judge to decide right now, the Judge Mark Luitjen?

OLIVIA LIMON: I think that question will go to Carlos.

AMY GOODMAN: Carlos Uresti?

REP. CARLOS URESTI: I can answer that, Amy. We have filed a motion for shock probation. The judge —

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, wait, wait. For "shock probation"?

REP. CARLOS URESTI: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: What is that?

REP. CARLOS URESTI: And actually we have filed a couple of documents, but one of the documents we filed is called a Motion for Shock Probation. The judge still has jurisdiction over this case. He has 180 days from the date of sentencing, which was February the 7th, in which to grant Tony shock probation. What that means, in essence, is, Tony is sent off to jail and eventually to prison, and within 180 days the judge can basically reach into prison, pull him back and say, "OK, Tony. Hopefully you’ve been shocked" — hence the term "shock probation" — "You don’t want to go to prison. I’m going to place you on probation for the remainder of the five years. And so, as long as you keep your nose clean, you stay out of trouble, etc., you stay out of prison." Now, the felony conviction will remain. So that’s one of the options that’s available to Tony.

We filed that motion this past Friday. We went in — Mr. McGinnis, my co-counsel, and I — went in and spoke with the judge and filed the motion, and he is — it’s under consideration. The judge has less than four months remaining in which to decide whether or not he’s going to grant the shock probation.

We have also filed, initially, within a couple of weeks of the sentencing, we filed a motion for new trial, which was denied by the judge, and we have requested permission to appeal the judge’s decision. That was denied. And we will be filing within the next couple of days our notice of appeal to the 4th Court of Appeals.

AMY GOODMAN: Olivia Limon, what were Tony’s plans before this?

OLIVIA LIMON: He wanted to be a veterinarian, and he had told me like, "I’m not going to go to college just right after school." He realized he graduated when he was just seventeen. And he goes, "Mom, I have a whole year, so I’m going to go ahead and work, and once this is cleared up, Mom, you know, I’ll go to college. That way I don’t have to be taking off to go to court and all this other stuff, right? Doing restitution and all this other stuff on the other incident."

I’d like to touch base with Carlos on that, because it sounded to me when he talked that he said that when Tony was sentenced that he was on probation. Well, Tony was not on probation when he was sentenced, I don’t know if he realized that he came across that way or not, Carlos —

REP. CARLOS URESTI: He was on probation at the time he was sentenced. He wasn’t on probation at the time he was arrested — I mean, at the time of the basketball game.

OLIVIA LIMON: Right. And a lot of people are under the impression that he was on probation when he did the foul, and that’s not so at all. He didn’t go onto probation until March. See, the attempted burglary by association happened in December. Then in January, the basketball incident, and we didn’t even go to court 'til March on that first incident. So, like, to us, and for all we knew, you know, like everything was OK, you know? We didn't even know. We thought it had already stopped at that point, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: Olivia Limon, do you have any other kids?

OLIVIA LIMON: I have a daughter.

AMY GOODMAN: How old is she?

OLIVIA LIMON: She’s twenty-two.

AMY GOODMAN: How has this affected her?

OLIVIA LIMON: My daughter has been very strong. She is a very religious person, and that has really helped her through all this. You know, but it’s her only brother, as we all realize, and, you know, it has taken a toll on her, but praise the Lord that, you know, because of Him, you know, she’s hanging in there.

And now, at this point, even Tony has converted. He’s become a born-again Christian, and he’s even baptized himself in jail, and he’s just made a ninety-degree turn, and he’s walking on faith, pretty much, you know? And he’s just a completely different person, not that he was a bad person before, but now he belongs to the Lord, and that’s the best that could happen to Tony or to anybody, in my way of thinking.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at the photograph of him in the New York Times, and he’s shackled, both his hands and his feet, in the interview. Tony Limon faces a five-year prison term. We’ve been speaking with his mother, Olivia Limon, and his lawyer, Carlos Uresti. And I want to thank you both for being with us. Carlos Uresti, also a Texas state representative.

We’re going to go now to Henry Rodriguez, who is the chapter director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, known as LULAC, which is a civil rights group. And this group held a news conference denouncing the sentence by the judge as cruel and unfair, saying that if this had taken place in a white community instead of Hispanic community, that this sentence would not have been imposed. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Henry Rodriguez.

HENRY RODRIGUEZ: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a few minutes, but can you tell us the gist of your denunciation of the judge’s sentence?

HENRY RODRIGUEZ: Well, like anybody else, we feel like this is unprecedented and really uncalled for. This is not justice. This is a young man that has a whole life ahead of him. He’s a good kid, basically like most kids, they’re not angels. But in a case like this, no one has ever been convicted of this kind of crime. Why Tony? And it is very upsetting. And we try to cooperate with everyone and try to see every angle, but yet everything points out that this is not justice at all. I don’t know what else we can say.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you doing at this point?

HENRY RODRIGUEZ: At this point in time, we’re waiting to see what happens, to see if he’s going to — are they going to set a bond on him so we can help out with that? We are starting a legal fund for him. We want to help in every possible way, cooperate with everyone.

But, you know, we do feel rather helpless because of the fact that he’s been in jail all this time. As a matter of fact, he’s gone through enough already, and so has his mother. And we just want to — have a "wait and see" opinion right now, where we’ll just play it by ear, but we will collectively as an organization support him in every which way that we possibly can.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, your press release was denounced by Tony’s lawyers. Why?

HENRY RODRIGUEZ: I can understand that. And my only reasoning for that — or my only thinking about that is that lawyers have to go before the judges all the time. They cannot be badmouthing a judge. We don’t. And we know that this will not affect the relationship with the judge and the judge have — that the attorneys and the judge have in any way, shape, or form.

This is our opinion and our opinion only. Any time any case is in litigation, we won’t do anything to hurt the case. But, of course, I know that the attorney is not going to badmouth the judge. There’s no way in the world. He has to go before him all the time.

AMY GOODMAN: If people want to get in touch with LULAC, with your organization, the League of United Latin American Citizens, where can they call in San Antonio?

HENRY RODRIGUEZ: They can call (210) 731-9195, or they can even call me on my cell phone. It’s 286-5383.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s (210) 286-5383. And I want to thank you very much for being with us, sound a little difficult because you are on your cell phone, but Henry Rodriguez, chapter director of the League of United Latin American Citizens

HENRY RODRIGUEZ: I’m in a funeral procession right now, as a matter of fact.

AMY GOODMAN: A funeral procession for who?

HENRY RODRIGUEZ: Yes. A friend of mine who died.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I’m sorry. And thanks for being with us.

HENRY RODRIGUEZ: But we’re there for Tony, and we have so many things to say, but, you know, in an instance like this, when you have little time, you know, all we can say is that we’ll do every possible thing that we can for Tony. If we have to down the road do some demonstrations or whatever, we have to, that’s what we’ll do. But right now we’re just going to stay calm, and see what happens.

AMY GOODMAN: Henry Rodriguez, thanks for being with us. Again, Tony Limon, he was eighteen years old, a senior starter for the Bobcats of the South San Antonio High School, elbowed another player and got a sentence of five years in prison for aggravated assault.

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