Like opposing sides of a football game, letters told Circuit Judge James L. Roberts Jr. what they thought about former Smithville coach Dwight Bowling.
Tuesday, Roberts sentenced the 57-year-old to a minimum of 30 years in prison, all of which will be served concurrent with an earlier federal sentence. Another five-year sentence could turn out to be less than the full five years, so the Mississippi Department of Corrections will consider its application later, if appropriate.
Two months ago, Bowling pleaded guilty to 14 counts of charges filed by grand juries in Monroe and Itawamba counties. They accused him of fondling and oral sex with minor males, as well as trying to bribe a witness from telling about their longtime sexual relationship.
Seven letters told Roberts why Bowling should be put in prison.
Six others, including one written by his pastor, speak of another view of the man, whose misdeeds sent shock waves through the region’s high school athletics community.
One victim described the championship coach as “a God in Smithville.”
“I didn’t know what to say or do – who would believe me?”
The man, now an adult, said he never wants his child to go through something like this.
“I have suffered over this a lot, not physically but mentally. He deserves what he gets. And I hope he hurts like he hurt me.”
Bro. Mike Tucker, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, wrote that he’s known Bowling since elementary school.
“He has brought much joy to the lives of the people of Smithville and given much opportunity to young men,” Tucker said.
“I realize Dwight has pleaded guilty to some horrible acts. I still believe that Dwight can be a positive influence to a lot of people. Please don’t throw him away forever.”
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Below are excerpts from letters written by people who asked the court for strong punishment:
* “Dwight Bowling attempted to molest our grandson, (name). This man was supposed to be our friend and fellow church member. He pretended to be a Christian, going to church on Sunday mornings and then molested young boys in the afternoon. Please use everything in your power to keep this man away from young boys!”
* “I am one of the victims … for six years, practically all my teenage years. Having to live with this secret all those years made me feel burdened, withdrawn and inferior. It was such a burden lifted from me when I finally came forth and turned him in.
“It is my hope that he will spend his remaining life in prison and never harm another child.”
* “I am the mother of (name), a victim of Dwight Bowling. Finding out what this man had done to my child for six years was devastating, making me both physically and mentally ill.
“Since my son has come forth and turned him in, I have seen a whole different person in him. He appears to be much happier and more outgoing. It is my hope that this man will not be allowed to return to society.”
* “I am glad that won’t happen to any other boys. Please don’t ever let him get out of jail. He tried to make you really like him, and then he tries to touch you.”
And excerpts from letters written by people who asked the court for mercy:
Bowling’s son, John Russell Bowling, wrote of his affection for his father.
“It’s no secret, in my eyes he will always hold the legacy of the best football coach, but he also wins the award of Best Father, Teacher, Friend and Business Partner. I was lucky in life to have a father that fit into my life in so many ways. He was loving and compassionate when needed, but he was stern and firm when needed to. I just hope that one day I can be the same type father he was to me to my unborn children.”
* “He has always been a loving and family-oriented man of God who was an exemplary and well-respected asset to this community. I’m not sure when his life started down this shocking path, but I remain in a complete state of virtual sadness …”
* “Your Honor, I beg you for mercy on Dwight. He still has so many good things that he could do in society.”
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In contrast to a lengthy, teary statement he read in federal court, Bowling was brief Tuesday.
“I haven’t lived a perfect life,” he began. “I ask and pray for forgiveness from anyone I have offended. This entire ordeal has hurt my family, my friends. I’ve hurt the community.
“I ask for personal forgiveness from each person I’ve sinned against. I never intended to hurt anyone, but I know I’ve done that.”
He said he hoped he could get “some psychological help” at some point.
Flanked by assistants Paul Gault and Chip Mills, District Attorney John Young told Roberts that Bowling should serve more time in Mississippi. “That’s where these crimes occurred – where his victims live,” Young said.
Basham told the judge Bowling’s representation “is one of the most difficult cases I’ve ever been appointed to.
“He is a shell of the man he was two years ago – he’s stripped of everything he ever held precious – his legacy, his home, his good name.”
Roberts told Bowling his crimes “robbed young men and boys of their innocence and trust.
“Your greatest enemy is the man in the mirror. No human is perfect, but coach, you crossed the line.”
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal