Tapia Hopes To Avoid Year in Prison

If his present situation weren’t troubling enough, Johnny Tapia’s past may be catching up with him — with a vengeance.

A 1995 conviction for aggravated assault, coupled with his cocaine-related probation violation last month, could put him in prison for a year.

But District Judge Kenneth Martinez said Wednesday at a probation-revocation hearing that, if a legal knot can be untied, he’d rather put the five-time world boxing champion back in rehab.

Tapia will be back in court Monday morning, giving Martinez, the state of New Mexico and the fighter’s attorneys time to untie that knot.

“If I’ve got to do it (serve time in prison), I’ll do it,” Tapia said after his hearing Wednesday. “… Whatever they do with me, I’ll be ready for.”

If he’s free to do so, Tapia said, he’s planning a return to the ring and has signed with promoter Juan Romero.

Romero confirmed he had signed Tapia to a two-fight contract.

But, Tapia said, if he goes to prison, “Then, you say (boxing is) over. I’ll probably have some sparring partners out there (in the corrections system).”

Tapia, 42, was arrested and jailed Feb. 10 after admitting to cocaine use — a violation of his probation stemming from a near-fatal March 2007 drug overdose.

In 1995, Tapia pleaded guilty to assault stemming from an incident in which he pointed a loaded gun at his wife, Teresa. Tapia received a deferred sentence for that offense and was on probation until July 1997. He pleaded guilty to the 2007 charges that May.

Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney John P. Sugg said it’s the state’s position that, because less than 10 years expired between his release from probation on the assault charges and his guilty plea on the drug-possession charge, the court must sentence him as a habitual felon.

“If the state wins its issue,” Sugg said, “Mr. Tapia has a minimum of one year in the Department of Corrections he’ll have to serve.”

Tapia’s defense is arguing that the 10-year period should be measured from the end of his probation on the 1995 assault charge and his sentencing on the possession charge. Sentencing on the 2007 charge was deferred.

The issue to be unraveled, said Louren Oliveros, Tapia’s attorney, “is whether or not they’re going to use (the 1995 conviction) against him if his probation is revoked.”

Sugg said the state will appeal if the court rules against its position, adding he expects Tapia to do the same if the state wins its case.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Martinez suggested — as “a happy medium” — that Tapia be sent to Fort Stanton, a drug-rehabilitation facility in Lincoln County, if the legal entanglement can be worked out.

“It sure beats imprisonment,” Martinez said. He noted that Tapia never finished his court-mandated program at Second Chance, a now-closed rehab center in Albuquerque, for reasons not all of his own making.

For now, Tapia remains under house arrest, wearing an ankle bracelet, after being released from the Metropolitan Detention Center under the terms of the Community Custody Program.

Tapia, a two-time national Golden Gloves champion as an amateur, has a 56-5-2 record as a professional. He has won world titles at 115, 118 and 126 pounds.

By ABQnews Staff
PUBLISHED: Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 6:35 am