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F...lying women caged

US District Court Judge Kenneth Karas ignored an emotional plea from the former track star and her lawyers for Jones to be given a probationary sentence, handing down the maximum term requested by prosecutors.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2008 22:09 IST

Disgraced former athletics star Marion Jones was sentenced on Friday to six months in prison for lying about taking steroids in a scandal that cost the sprinter her five Olympic medals.

US District Court Judge Kenneth Karas ignored an emotional plea from the former track star and her lawyers for Jones to be given a probationary sentence, handing down the maximum term requested by prosecutors.

"The offenses here are serious," Karas said. "They each involve lies made three years apart to federal investigators conducting serious investigations and I think that has to be a factor here."

Jones's humiliating fall from grace began when she admitted in October to lying to federal agents about being a dope cheat and her role in a check fraud scheme, at the time offering a tearful apology and pleading for forgiveness.

In passing sentence, Karas said Jones had not made "a momentary lapse in judgment, a one-time mistake, but instead a repetition in an attempt to break the law," adding "nobody is above the legal obligation to tell the truth."

Soon after the sentence was passed, a visibly distressed Jones fell into an embrace with her husband, Barbados sprinter Obedele Thompson.

She later spoke briefly outside the courthouse, saying: "I respect the judge's orders and I truly hope that people will learn from my mistakes."

Jones, 32, admitted in a statement to the court before sentencing that she was "scared and nervous about today's outcome," breaking down in tears as she pleaded with the judge to spare her jail time for the sake of her two sons.

"Yes, I made mistakes by lying," she said. "I have admitted these mistakes much later than I should have done but hopefully not too late to elicit from you the milk of human kindness."

"We all make mistakes," she added. "But I really believe that a person's true character is determined by their admission of those mistakes."

Jones was also sentenced to two years' supervised release and 400 hours of community service and must surrender by March 11 to begin a sentence that Karas said was meant to deter other athletes from following down Jones' path.

"Athletes in society have an elevated status. They entertain, they inspire and perhaps most importantly they do serve as role models for children around the world," the judge said.

"When there is this widespread cheating ... it sends all the wrong messages to those who follow the athlete's every moves."

Jones's cousin Andrea Andrade said Karas sent a different message to athletes by imposing the prison sentence.

"The message to professional athletes is to not tell the truth because you will be dealt with more harshly if you tell the truth than if you deny and you are found guilty," she said.

"We were very disappointed by the sentence. We felt it was much, much too harsh," George Hulse, Jones's grandfather, told AFP.

"We were hoping for community service. She could have used this time much more effectively rather than spend that six months in prison."

USA Track and Field president Bill Roe and chief executive Craig Masback said in a joint statement that the sentence "concludes a sad series of events."

"The revelation that one of the sport's biggest stars took performance-enhancing drugs and repeatedly lied about it, in addition to being a party to fraud, has no silver lining," they said.

US Olympic Committee chief executive Jim Scherr said Jones' sentence showed "just how far-reaching and serious the consequences of cheating can be."

The World Anti-Doping Agency described the case as "a very sad example of an athlete who has cheated but denied it for years.

"We hope that athletes who may be tempted to cheat will take to heart this lesson and that this case will serve as a strong deterrent," the agency said.

Soon after admitting in October to doping following years of denials, Jones returned the three gold medals and two bronze medals she won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics to the International Olympic Committee.

Jones captured gold in the 100- and 200-meters at Sydney and helped the 4x100m relay to gold as well. She was also a five-time world champion.

All Jones' results since September 1, 2000, have been stricken from the records and Jones has been banned from competition by the IAAF, the sport's governing body, even though she announced in October her decision to retire.