By Rick Reeno
On March 7, junior middleweight James Kirkland (25-0, 22KOs) picked up his most impressive victory to date, a six-round destruction of top contender Joel Julio. Back in the dressing room, a delighted Oscar De La Hoya [Golden Boy Promotions president] congratulated Kirkland on the win. De La Hoya asked him "are you ready to become a champion? Are you ready to make some serious money?" The bright lights. The big money. Everything was coming together.
Kirkland’s very aggressive and sometimes reckless style of fighting was making him a big fan favorite. The bigwigs at HBO were also becoming fans. The term “safety first” was not in Kirkland’s vocabulary. He certainly wasn’t afraid to take a few punches.
Golden Boy had high hopes and put together a well-constructed plan. As part of that plan, Kirkland was going to fight Michael Walker on the May 2 pay-per-view undercard to Pacquiao-Hatton. If successful, Golden Boy was going to place him in the co-feature position to a planned HBO card in the month of August in Houston, Texas [Malignaggi-Diaz]. On the same August card, Kirkland would have likely challenged Daniel Santos for the WBA title.
Before any of that could happen, Kirkland was arrested during a traffic stop on April 19 in Austin, Texas. Kirkland's vehicle was pulled over by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. After conducting a search of the vehicle, a loaded .40-caliber Glock was discovered in the center console.
The trouble began when ATF agents were staking out a Saxet gun show and witnessed an exchange of money between Kirkland and his girlfriend Candice Jones. Jones used the money to purchase ammunition for a .40 caliber weapon at the show. Agents claimed that Kirkland, using his own ID, purchased the confiscated firearm on April 18 at the previously mentioned gun show. Earlier in the year, Kirkland was robbed at gunpoint. He was looking to get a weapon to protect himself.
An even bigger problem played in. Kirkland was still on probation for a 2003 armed robbery offense, which strictly prohibits him from purchasing and/or possessing firearms. Kirkland has been incarcerated since the arrest. He cost himself a $235,000 purse for the bout with Walker, and an estimated $300-350,000 purse for Santos. On September 23, Kirkland's entire future will be at stake when he appears for sentencing in federal court in Austin.
Kirkland's co-manager, Michael Miller, is a licensed attorney in the state of Texas. While he doesn't handle criminal law, he retained the best attorneys possible to handle Kirkland's case. Even with the best legal backing, Miller admits to BoxingScene.com that Kirkland is at the mercy of the federal guidelines.
"This is a federal case, it’s ATF. The sentencing guidelines are what we’ll have to adhere to. The federal prosecutor is offering somewhere between 45 and 54 months. Obviously we are going to the judge for sentencing and hopefully we can keep it under 20 months. He is getting credit for time served," Miller said.
“What’s killing him on the guidelines is his past criminal history. He racked up a lot of points under this federal guideline system. You rack up points for crimes that you committed in the past and they get to use them against you.”
Based on the guidelines, the federal prosecutor can use anything from Kirkland’s past, including juvenile offenses, to add weight to the case.
“I’ve always considered that like double jeopardy. You’ve done your time and you’ve been punished for it. A lot of the stuff is from when he was a juvenile and that kind of stuff. They get to go back to when you broke your first pencil and cussed out your first teacher and use that as leverage against you. It’s all based on a points system and we’re hoping for a miracle on September 23rd,” Miller said.
A miracle for Miller is a sentence of 20-months or less. With over 5-months already served [by the time Kirkland appears for sentencing], the sentence would get reduced to 15-months. According to Miller, the final 6-months of the sentence can be carried out in a half-way house. A half-way house would open the door for Kirkland to possibly train, and fight, during the six-month stay.
“If you have an 18-month sentence, you can spend the last 6-months in a half-way house unless you really screw up in the first 12-months,” Miller said.
Kirkland is trying his best to stay in shape. Once incarcerated, he quickly ballooned to 195-pounds. Miller recently saw him, and says Kirkland cut down to 178.
“The first time I saw him, he was probably weighing around 195. Just last week I came back and I saw him and I asked him how much weight did he drop and he said that he was around 178,” Miller said.
Miller is not exactly concerned with Kirkland’s career, although he admits that a possible sentence of 40 to 50 months would likely cripple the fighter’s chances to succeed by taking away his prime years. Miller is more concerned with the fighter’s life, and trying to reunite him with his family in the quickest possible manner. Miller, Kirkland’s trainer/mentor Ann Wolfe, and even De La Hoya himself - plan to speak on the fighter’s behalf on his sentencing date.
“I think he really is a good kid. I’m just trying to save his life. If he boxes again, that’s just a bonus,” Miller said.