By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
GREENVILLE – Disgraced coaching legend Dwight G. Bowling slumped against the lectern Tuesday when he heard the judge say “300 months” in prison.
Bowling, 56, of Smithville faces the next 25 years in federal custody for his guilty pleas to taking minor males into Alabama for sex and for trying to convince a witness to lie about their longtime sexual relationship.
“I was surprised by the verdict,” said his attorney, Christi R. McCoy of Oxford.
She said it’s “so rare” to see a federal judge – in this case, U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper – sentence a defendant to more than recommendations developed by the U.S. Probation Service. Those guidelines include the person’s background, good and bad, whether they’ve ever been convicted of another crime and if they’ve taken responsibility for this crime.
In this case, the recommendation was 168 months.
Immediately after the sentencing, Bowling was led away by U.S. marshals into the adjacent hallway to speak with McCoy.
Shouting could be heard as relatives of a Bowling victim taunted him about the strong sentence.
Where Bowling will serve his time will be up to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. He did not make any site request, although the BOP doesn’t necessarily meet such a preference.
He still faces sentences from guilty pleas to fondling and sexual battery of minor males in Monroe and Itawamba counties. Similar charges in Alabama are possible.
Dressed in bright yellow Monroe County Jail garb, the former high school football championship coach looked like he’d gained weight since his April 27 guilty pleas. He was handcuffed and leg-shackled in the downtown Greenville courtroom.
He wept throughout a statement he read to Pepper before he was sentenced.
“Your honor, I’ve given my life’s work to coaching, 32 years,” he said. “God has blessed me beyond measure. I realize that good has been destroyed because of my sin. I’ve let so many people down. God has given me family that I treasure more than gold on earth, but I’ve caused them immeasurable harm because of my sin.
“He’s given me friends, I always cherished. They’ve turned away because of my sins. I have memories that no man can take away, but they, too, are tarnished because of my sin.”
Bowling likely to spend life in prison
By Patsy R. Brumfield
NEMS Daily Journal
GREENVILLE – Dwight Bowling will spend at least as much time behind bars as he did coaching athletics at Smithville and at Sulligent, Ala.
His sentence of 300 months, pronounced Tuesday in U.S. District Court, could well be a life sentence for the 56-year-old cancer survivor.
Bowling will be about 79 when he’s released.
In the federal system, a prisoner gets credit for one month of every year served. That takes 25 months off his 300 months, which equates to nearly 23 years.
After that, District Attorney John Young of Corinth wants more jail time for Bowling on his guilty pleas to molesting minor males in Monroe and Itawamba counties.
And after that, Bowling may face more charges from Alabama, where he reportedly took an unknown number of youths for sex while he was head football coach at Sulligent High School.
District Attorney Chris McCool of Lamar County, Ala., could not be reached Tuesday for answers about whether a grand jury will examine allegations against Bowling there.
Before Judge W. Allen Pepper sentenced him, Bowling told Pepper that God had forgiven him for what he’d done.
“I admitted guilt before and I’m like David, who sinned with Bathsheba – my sins are always before me,” he told the judge. “I’ve prayed continuously that those I’ve wronged will forgive me. I ask today publicly that they forgive me. I’ve asked God to forgive me and I know he has. He forgives and forgets. He’s removed my sins. I know and pray that one day those I have wronged will forgive me, but they may not be able to forget.”
Pepper agreed with the harm Bowling had done to the young men across the years, citing multiple Bible verses of warnings to people who do harm to children.
And he likened what Bowling had done to the worldwide sex scandal of some Catholic priests, who were discovered to have molested children.
“It’s the fact that by virtue of your position, of respect and trust, that when that is violated, the impact on young people is long lasting and devastating,” Pepper told him. “It might be passed on generation to generation. This is about as enduring, painful a trauma as a young person can have. I’m sure you understand that.”
Bowling went weak in the knees when he heard Pepper pronounce his sentence, and he saved himself from physical collapse by catching hold of a lecturn in front of him and his attorney, Christi R. McCoy of Oxford.
After the 45-minute hearing in Greenville, McCoy said it’s possible that Bowling will appeal the severity of the sentence.
About two dozen people sat in the courtroom audience. Bowling’s two sons and a few other friends and family were present. Law enforcement officials from Alabama and Monroe County also were there, along with what appeared to be a family of five with a young man.
In a lengthy, tear-soaked statement to Pepper, Bowling said he felt so helpless when he learned that his beloved Smithville was devastated by a tornado on the same day he pleaded guilty to the sex scandal.
He recounted his humble upbringing three miles from Smithville and that he spurned an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy so that he could be a coach and teacher.
He wept as he told Pepper about his “painful divorce” and then a remarriage in 2002.
He told Pepper about his coaching career, his state championships, his all-star trips with teams to Australia and Hawaii, the book he wrote about football and his helping financially disadvantaged players.
McCoy told Pepper the Bowling case is perhaps her most difficult as a criminal defense attorney.
She said Bowling has two sides – the one the public knew, and the dark side that committed these crimes.
She said that when Bowling confessed this dark side in April, she saw his burden lifted.
“This was simply the sinful side of a man who couldn’t fight against it,” she told the judge. “I believe he is sorry for what he did. I would ask for the court’s mercy – to stay within the guidelines. I believe they are sufficient.”
But Pepper did not believe they were sufficient, visibly much to the surprise of Susan Bradley, the federal prosecutor.
Bradley asked him to sentence Bowling at the upper end of the guidelines.
“One of the most respected titles I know is that of coach,” Pepper said to Bowling. “Believe it or not, there are people still around who coached me in high school. I still refer to them as coach.
“I hope that as time goes by the harm that’s been done to these young men, the families, the community of Smithville and the institution of coaching – just the respect that high school students have for persons in authority might be restored.”