A nervous, repentant Sam Hurd stood before U.S. District court judge Jorge A. Solis on Wednesday in federal court in Dallas and begged for forgiveness and leniency, calling himself "the stupidest drug guy ever." The government had recommended a life sentence without the possibility of parole, but Solis instead sentenced the former Cowboys and Bears receiver to 15 years in federal prison for his involvement in marijuana and cocaine trafficking. The sentence brings to a close a contentious, nearly 2 1/2-year battle, with the U.S. Attorneys office and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in Dallas on one side, and Hurd's defense team on the other -- the adversaries portraying vastly different versions of Hurd's drug dealing involvement before, during and after the 2011 NFL season.
As Wednesday's four-hour sentencing hearing drew to a close, Hurd wept as he stood next to defense counsel Michael McCrum and delivered a freewheeling and emotional speech in open court that lasted about 25 minutes. Several times Hurd was given tissues and gently urged to calm himself and take deep breaths by both McCrum and Solis. Hurd's wife, Stacee, was in attendance along with about 15 other relatives and supporters, watching as Hurd carried a prepared statement to Solis' dais that he did not use. Instead he offered an impassioned, impromptu explanation of his crimes, which included a meeting with an ICE informant and undercover ICE special agent in a Chicago steak house in December 2011, where Hurd was given a kilo of cocaine. Hurd characterized himself as a foolish, marijuana-addicted rube who stepped too close to a fire whose heat he underestimated.
Among the things Hurd said in court: "My life is a train wreck because of the bad decisions I made."; "Everything I did was a result of my marijuana addiction."; "I was extremely stupid. I feel the pain I caused my wife, mother, father, sisters and brothers and my community."
Hurd asked Solis for a "second chance" and promised to "be an upstanding citizen and a loving husband and father."
The plea appears to have had at least some impact on Solis, who said he felt inclined to sentence Hurd to 27 years before pointing out that this was Hurd's first offense and chopped his initial assessment nearly in half. The judge's final ruling -- 15 years, to be followed by five years supervised release -- caused an audible gasp from the gallery.
In perhaps the hearing's greatest revelation, McCrum presented phone records that suggested Hurd was not involved in dealing narcotics with his cousin Tyrone Chavful while Hurd was out on bond in San Antonio following his arrest in Chicago. Those phone records, McCrum told the court, point instead to Larry Houston, the father of Lions starting cornerback Chris Houston, as Chavful's drug-trafficking partner at that time.
After court, McCrum stressed that there was no evidence to suggest that Chris Houston knew "anything about any of this. Neither did Sam. And they're only phone calls. We don't know what was discussed between Mr. Chavful and Mr. Houston. But I do know that it's part of the world where these modern players live, where people back home whose relationships with these players are often very tenuous, consider themselves financially supported or having some sort of clout. It's an incredibly heavy burden on these young athletes, and that burden played into this [Hurd] case as well."
Noticeably absent from the hearing were Hurd's teammates from the Cowboys or Bears. Running back Marion Barber was supposed to attend but reportedly missed his flight and was "very upset" that he was unable to support his close friend and teammate of six years. The handful of Cowboys players with whom Hurd was closest during his five years with the team were not in attendance and did not return phone calls from SI seeking comment. Multiple sources have confirmed that several of the Dallas players who received marijuana from Hurd between 2008 to 2011 asked one witness not to testify because of potential harm to their careers and public reputations.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Tromblay provided minimal evidence during the hearing and offered only brief cross examinations of Hurd's character witnesses. Tromblay responded to claims that his office had tried to make an example of Hurd because of his NFL notoriety by saying, "This isn't because he's an NFL player -- it's because he's a drug dealer. He [knew] exactly what he was doing."
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Hurd is required to serve 85 percent of his sentence before being eligible to be released, which is slightly less than 13 years.
After the hearing, McCrum described his emotions and those of his client as "a mixture of happiness and something that doesn't have a name. Forlorn, maybe? We feel very strongly that 15 years is still way too much." Asked about a potential appeal of Hurd's sentence, McCrum said that would be "Sam's decision."
Hurd's mother Gloria Corbin made the four-hour drive from San Antonio for the hearing and remained calm afterward, calling the verdict "bad news but also good news." Asked if her son planned to appeal, she said, "Oh, hell yeah."