The 30-minute charge to the jury seemed cold and deadly precise despite the soft, patriarchal manner of the judge and the soothing light of the 100-seat courtroom in Houston. His hair was thin and white and his eyes, which reminded one of Lewis Stone when he was in deep counsel with a pestiferous Andy Hardy, never left the jury. The only question, said Federal District Judge Joe Ingraham, was whether the defendant knowingly and unlawfully refused to be inducted into military service.
The testimony had taken less than five hours, and the jury was back with its verdict after only 21 minutes. Muhammad Ali, still the heavyweight champion in Europe and the Moslem world, but not—after recognition was hastily withdrawn—in his own land, was guilty as charged. Now Ali stood at the bench. Beside him were his lawyers, Quinnan Hodges and Hayden Covington. U.S. Attorney Morton Susman, on the left, noted in Ali's behalf that his record was good and that once, as a young man named Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., he had won an Olympic gold medal for his country. Ali's troubles, he said compassionately, began when he became a Black Muslim.
"If I can say so, sir, my religion is not political in no way," Ali said.
"You'll be heard in due order," the judge replied. He then imposed the sentence: five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The penalties were as stiff as the law permits. Even Grover Cleveland Bergdoll, the most famous U.S. draft dodger, drew only five years for his World War I evasion. Ali's mentor, Elijah Muhammad, served just three years for urging his followers to resist the World War II draft.
July 2, 1967
The usually vociferous Ali remained silent and expressionless during the sentencing. Then he walked away. He had, in fact, been subdued from the moment he entered the courtroom. His big brown eyes passive, his legs crossed, he had spent most of his time doodling on a yellow legal pad. He finished a fancy Muhammad Ali signature, drew a compass rose, the sort often seen on maps, and worked on a moody scene depicting a small plane diving into a fjord. He appeared resigned to the denouement of his trial, the first of what promises to be a long, slow series of court battles. Twice he wore a thin, knowing smile when Judge Ingraham made rulings that destroyed his defense, forcing his lawyers to fall back on the fact that he had lost a beautiful wife and untold thousands of dollars because of his beliefs.
Following the verdict, Covington, who many months ago predicted that Ali would never spend a day in jail, said, "He hasn't yet, has he?" No, Ali's plane still had not crashed into the fjord, but how long could it be kept flying in such perilous skies?