Marion Jones, the disgraced former Olympic sprinter, was sentenced to six months in prison yesterday – the maximum demanded by her prosecutors – despite pleading with the judge to be merciful and prevent her separation from her two young children.
Jones, who pleaded guilty to two charges of lying to federal prosecutors in October, cried on her husband's shoulder as the judge, Kenneth Karas, explained that the maximum sentence would apply in her case "because of the need for general deterrence and the need to promote respect for the law".
After years of denials and frantic attempts to protect her image, the 32-year-old athlete finally admitted during her trial in upstate New York that she had lied about her use of illicit steroids and lied about a cheque fraud involving the father of her first child, Tim Montgomery, and her former coach, Steve Riddick.
At yesterday's hearing, Jones pleaded with Judge Karas not to separate her from her children "even for a short period of time".
"I ask you to be as merciful as a human being can be," she said. "My passion in life has always been my family... I know the day is quickly approaching when my boys ask me about these current events. I intend to be honest and forthright ... and guide them into not making the same mistakes."
The plea fell on deaf ears, although the judge spared her the ordeal of a sentence longer than the maximum agreed under her plea deal – something he appeared to be actively considering.
Ms Jones is one of several high-profile athletes exposed as potential consumers of illicit performance-enhancing drugs following a raid on a San Francisco-area sports laboratory called Balco.
Jones was the star of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney where she won three gold and two bronze medals. Those achievements have now been tarnished following her admission that she took the designer steroid known as "the clear" between 2000 and 2001. She has also admitted lying about her drug use to federal investigators who interviewed her when the Balco scandal broke in 2003.
The succession of legal proceedings have pushed Jones from one of the most heavily endorsed athletes in the world to a woman on the brink of financial ruin. Her lawyers argued she should be spared prison time because she had "suffered enough". Since her conviction she has beaten her breast publicly about her actions. "I have been dishonest, and you have the right to be angry with me," she said in one appearance. "I have let [my family] down. I have let my country down, and I have let myself down."