A Clark County prosecutor and investigator went to California earlier this year to meet with Josie Harris, the longtime on-again, off-again girlfriend of champion boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Harris, the mother of three of the boxer's children, had filed a domestic violence complaint against Mayweather after a Sept. 9, 2010, incident. Harris said the boxer assaulted her because she was dating another man.
Harris had made a similar allegation before. In 2003, she told police Mayweather beat her during an argument over another woman. When that case went to trial in 2005, Harris changed her story and told the jury Mayweather was a "teddy bear" who had never laid a hand on her.
Mayweather was acquitted.
Because of that history, prosecutors handling the 2010 case didn't consider Harris a reliable witness.
"The only ace in the hole we had was the children (who) had witnessed the incident and given statements to police," District Attorney David Roger said Wednesday. "And we were going to call them to testify."
Harris and Mayweather, who was physically abused as a child, faced the possibility of seeing their two sons, now 12 and 10, testify against their father for beating their mother.
Harris left Las Vegas. And when the prosecutor and investigator traveled to California to meet with her before an October evidentiary hearing, Harris pulled her children from school and disappeared again, Roger said.
Prosecutors were backed into a corner. With no witnesses, they had no case. They cut a deal with Mayweather. He pleaded guilty Wednesday to three misdemeanors, including battery-domestic violence. The felonies Mayweather was charged with, with the possibility of 34 years in prison, were dropped.
"If we had had the children, we would have held out for more than a misdemeanor," Roger said.
A PLEA FOR LENIENCY
Mayweather's highly respected criminal defense attorneys Richard Wright and Karen Winkler had scored victory after victory in the boxer's myriad criminal cases, keeping the 34-year-old out of jail over the past decade.
On Wednesday, they again tried to keep Mayweather out of the Clark County Detention Center.
Winkler told Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Melissa Saragosa that Harris was to blame for starting the fight, that Mayweather had gone to the home to get the keys to his truck and that Mayweather was only concerned about his children's well-being.
"He's a good person," Winkler said, as she described the boxer's charitable works, including giving 1,000 toys to a local rescue mission for the holidays, contributing thousands of dollars to breast cancer research and paying for funerals for other boxers.
Winkler also asked the judge to consider placing Mayweather on house arrest.
Harris was not at Wednesday's hearing although her lawyer, Charles Kelly, did attend.
Harris submitted a letter to Saragosa asking that Mayweather not be sentenced to jail. Harris just wanted Mayweather to admit what he did was wrong and attend counseling sessions.
SENTENCED TO JAIL
Prosecutor Liza Luzaich told Saragosa of Mayweather's decade-long history of domestic violence and how counseling efforts and $1,000 fines haven't worked in the past.
"The only thing that is going to get this man's attention is incarceration," Luzaich said at Wednesday's hearing.
Saragosa pointed out that Mayweather, whose children watched him "hitting and kicking" their mother, told his sons' "he would beat their asses if they left the house or called the police."
The law allows for a sentence of two days to six months in jail for battery-domestic violence.
Saragosa denied the house arrest request and sentenced Mayweather to six months in jail, 90 days of which must be spent in the Detention Center and 90 days of which will be suspended.
"I think a period of time in incarceration will send the right message to the community and to his children that, no matter who you are, you will have consequences to your actions that are appropriate when this level of violence is inflicted," the judge said.
Mayweather was ordered to attend a yearlong domestic violence counseling program, perform 100 hours of community service, pay a $2,500 fine and stay out of trouble. He must report to jail Jan. 6.
Mayweather, dressed in a sharp suit, walked out of court surrounded by an entourage and said nothing to reporters seeking comment.
Winkler told a reporter for The Associated Press that Mayweather probably will appeal the sentence.
But five local attorneys said such an appeal would have little chance at success. The defense would have to show "abuse of discretion" by the judge, a standard of law that means a sentence was outside the parameters of legal guidelines or that the judge showed a bias against a defendant.
The maximum jail time Mayweather could have been given was six months. He was ordered to serve three months.
Lawyers agreed appealing the sentence is a "Hail Mary" legal tactic, likely to fail.
Winkler and Wright did not respond to repeated calls to their office about the reported appeal.
WHY TAKE A PLEA?
Why would Mayweather, who is undefeated in the boxing ring and has won almost all of his legal bouts against prosecutors, strike a deal that opened him up to jail time?
While Harris was not cooperating with authorities, the specter of Mayweather's sons being called to testify against him remained as long as the case was open.
After Mayweather was sentenced, Winkler and Wright were asked if the reason the boxer pleaded guilty was to save his children from the trauma of taking the stand against their father.
Neither lawyer wanted to comment, but they agreed that Mayweather would do anything to protect his children.
Roger was cynical when asked the same question.
"What was his motive? Was he a wonderful father that didn't want his kids going through the trauma of testifying?" Roger asked. The county's top prosecutor said he doubted it.
Roger, who will to resign in January and go into private practice, said he believes Mayweather did it for strategic reasons. Having his children testify "would have tarnished his image," Roger said.
It's not known whether Mayweather will spend the whole 90 days in jail. He will be entitled to time off with good behavior, which could shave weeks off his sentence. He also has been given credit for having already served several days in jail on his cases.
Chances are, once in jail, Mayweather will be held in isolation as in the past. Police have sought to keep Mayweather out of the general population for fear that other inmates might want to tussle with the boxer.
The jail sentence is expected to interrupt Mayweather's plans to fight May 5, which the public hoped would be against Manny Pacquiao. Once released, the boxer still could schedule a fight in 2012. But he will have a 90-day suspended sentence hanging over his head if he should break the law again
The question remains whether he can stay out of trouble.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@review journal.com or 702-380-1039.