This afternoon at the Federal courthouse in Dallas, U.S. District court judge Jorge Solis is scheduled to begin the sentencing hearing for former Cowboys and Bears receiver Sam Hurd, who pleaded guilty to a single drug trafficking charge in April. Hurd's attorneys will be allowed to present witnesses and evidence to contest the individual allegations against him. At the end of the hearing Solis will decide whether to take the recommendation of the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Department of life in prison without parole or give Hurd a lighter sentence. The only certainty is that Hurd will be going to prison.
Hurd was arrested on Dec. 14, 2011 and indicted on Jan. 4, 2012. For the first 19 months, life in prison was not even in the discussion. Five to 20 years was the sentencing range, with precedent and the informed opinions of more objective onlookers and academics backing up that estimate. Since the life sentence recommendation was made in late July, one comment repeated by sources across the spectrum of partiality has been some version of this reminder: You realize life in prison in the federal system means the next time he comes out of prison it'll be in a coffin.
Hurd, who has been housed in the federal detention center in Seagoville, about a 30-minute drive from the Dallas court building, did not respond to an email from SI Wednesday morning. He may have already been relocated to downtown Dallas and unable to access his prison-controlled email account. He called last Friday night and repeated again that he is "ready to be sentenced for what I did, not this other mess. Our system should not work like this."
Hurd's family sent a pressed suit to the Seagoville jail several days ago so that Hurd would not have to wear the orange canvas jersey and pants that, in a tragic irony, match the shade of the Bears' orange alternate jersey -- the one he last wore on the afternoon of his penultimate NFL catch.
The prosecutors and investigators on the Hurd case have told SI on numerous occasions over the last two years that they do not comment on matters that have yet to be adjudicated. Two teammates of Hurd's who declined numerous interview requests over the last 22 months contacted SI on Tuesday, presumably after reading The MMQB story, and were suddenly willing to share their inside accounts of Hurd's downfall. This morning in Dallas, San Antonio and Chicago, small gatherings of Hurd's relatives and supporters are praying, preparing as best they can for a court proceeding where, like the Hurd saga itself, anything can happen.
The number of witnesses that will be called by either side is impossible to predict. The two opposing strategies are under wraps. SI has confirmed that one witness (who according to several sources was threatened repeatedly by the cooperating defendant known as "Capri," the man who months ago ordered this witness under threat of violence not to mention his name to authorities) requested a private session today for security reasons, but has since decided not to testify at all.
"I'm confident that we'll be able to lay out the strongest evidence in this case and hopefully convince the judge to hand down an appropriate sentence," said Michael McCrum, Hurd's lead defense attorney.
Hurd's relentlessly positive mother, Gloria Corbin, posted scripture on her Facebook page throughout Tuesday evening, adding a personal note last night: I will be knocking and kicking let him out let him out. Freedom. Free at last thanks God almighty free at last. This morning she wrote a longer, more personal message to her son's supporters.
Asked how she and the family are feeling today, Hurd's sister Jawanda Newsome said, "We're okay. I have faith in God. I trust Him in all things."
One former teammate of Hurd's who is still playing in the NFL and knows some of the characters who will be discussed during Wednesday's sentencing hearing, texted: "It's hard to believe they wanna give him life on the testimony of that coward [Capri], just unreal ... I pray they don't give him life and that he appeals that ASAP."
Response from the public, as expressed through social media, has fallen into three main groups: those who are outraged that Hurd might receive life (this group includes those who believe the justice system is deeply diseased and those who point out that convicted murderer Rae Carruth and convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky received less than life); a second group that thinks Hurd is a greedy, hell-bent fool who had plenty of NFL money but inexplicably wanted more and therefore deserves whatever he gets ("You know how I steer clear of overzealous prosecutors?" one member of this group wrote, "I avoid walking around with large quantities of hard drugs"); and a third contingent that trends younger and perhaps listens to too much gangster rap and plays too much Grand Theft Auto and considers Hurd a sort of stoner god, a hydroponic hero.
A few NFL players have weighed in via Twitter:
Former Cowboys receiver Jesse Holley (Hurd's teammate and fellow special teamer in 2010): "I'm just like Wow. To see/know someone you were that close to turn out like this. Truly a sad story! ... Sam is looking at a Potential LIFE SENTENCE tomorrow in court. WOW!!! IMO I think that's A BIT much but I don't bang a Gavel."
Former Cowboys teammate Bradie James (who played with Hurd from 2006 to 2010): "Still hard to wrap my head around it. Choices, Decisions, Consequences!"
But the most important thing that will happen today -- arguably the only important thing -- will be what comes out of Judge Solis's mouth when the attorneys and witnesses are done talking and he's done listening. Just before he taps his gavel.
The only positive development over the last 24 hours is that this high-stakes case about a well-regarded former football player has gotten us talking. And thinking. If social media and emails and calls and texts to SI over the last 24 hours are any indication, there were a great many more people praying for Hurd last night than were hoping that the key to his cell gets thrown away.