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Ex-Steelers star given probation

Morris also fined $7,000 for marijuana possession

Author: Douglas Holt Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News  
Publish Date: July 12, 1996
ROCKWALL - Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Byron "Bam" Morris was given six years of deferred adjudication Thursday for carrying more than 5 pounds of marijuana in his Mercedes-Benz in March.  

The special form of probation gives the leading rusher of Super Bowl XXX a chance to avoid the third-degree felony conviction if he stays out of trouble for six years. State District Judge William B. Lofland also fined Mr. Morris $7,000 and ordered him to perform 200 hours of community service. 

He could have been sentenced to as much as 10 years in prison and fined up to $10,000.  Mr. Morris , who was release by the Steelers this week, expressed relief as he walked out of the courtroom wearing a tan suit, diamond stud earrings and an AFC Championship ring. 

“I want to say to the kids: People make mistakes, and I made one and I’m going to correct it,” he said.  Earlier, his mother, a sister from his northeast Texas hometown of Cooper, and high school and college football coaches vouched for his character. 

“I think he’s outstanding,” said Rick Dykes, an assistant Texas Tech University football coach who drove five hours to attend the hearing.  “At Texas Tech, he was a gifted athlete and also very giving of his time in the community.” 

Defense attorneys described him as a naive, trusting young man who had been hanging around with a “party crowd.”  They said he has low self-esteem stemming from a childhood battle with dyslexia.   

Rockwall County District Attorney Ray Sumrow characterized him as a habitual user of marijuana who has concealed it for years.  He urged the judge to issue straight probation, which would have left the felony conviction on Mr. Morris’ record unless a judge later removed it for good conduct.   

“Mr. Morris has set himself up as a hero, but he let us down,” Mr. Sumrow said.  “Don’t reward him up front because he an carry a football faster than I can or you can.” 

Mr. Morris told the judge that his “mistake” would never happen again.   

“I let my family down and that’s the thing that hurts so bad,” he said.  “I just apologize to my family, and my mom especially.” 

The drug incident occurred in March.  While vacationing on South Padre Island, Mr. Morris asked his bank in the northeast Texas town of Pittsburg to wire $1,500 to a bank in the border town of Donna, Mr. Sumrow said.  Prosecutors said an undetermined sum went to pay for the drugs.   

Mr. Morris and longtime friend Rodney Dwayne Reynolds, 26, were stopped March 22 on their way home after an officer reported seeing Mr. Morris’ eastbound car weaving on Interstate 30 between Rockwall and Royse City.   

In addition to marijuana found in Mr. Morris’ gym bag, officers discovered .97 grams of cocaine under the ashtray.  Police turned in 7 pounds of marijuana, but the lab weight-after stems and seeds were removed in accordance with state law-was 5.39 pounds.   

Judge Lofland ordered a similar sentence Thursday for Mr. Reynolds.  He got six years of deferred adjudication probation, a $4,000 fine and 200 hours of community service.  

In exchange for Mr. Morris’ guilty plea, prosecutors agreed not to recommend jail time and to drop cocaine possession charge, which carried a lesser punishment than the marijuana. 

Mr. Morris’ future in the NFL is uncertain.  The Steelers, after distancing themselves from Mr. Morris since his arrest, told him to stay away from training camp, then released him Thursday. 

Under the NFL’s drug policy, any player with a drug conviction faces discipline determined by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.  The suggested guidelines for a first-time violation is suspension for four regular season games. 

Technically, despite his guilty plea, Mr. Morris does not have a conviction on his record.  “His status is under review,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Thursday. 

Mr. Morris also would face random testing for drugs up to 10 times a month under the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Mr. Morris said he had no idea what would happen to his football career, although his attorneys expressed confidence that the 245-pound running back will soon be picked up by a team. 

“If they pick me up, they pick me up,” Mr. Morris said.  “If they don’t, I gotta go on with my life.”  

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