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High School Football Star Gets 6 Months for Shooting : Courts: Newbury Park pass receiver Leodes Van Buren shot through a locked door.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The state’s leading high school pass receiver will spend the next six months in jail instead of on a college football field after being sentenced Thursday for shooting through a door at his girlfriend’s home.

Former Newbury Park football star Leodes Van Buren was also given five years probation for firing a handgun through a locked glass door in April as his girlfriend stood only three feet away.

Acting Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Clark said the 19-year-old deserved a jail term because of his lack of public remorse and for coercing his girlfriend, whom he married in July, to change her account of the shooting under oath.

“Even if Mr. Van Buren didn’t fire the shot, he certainly was engaged in a conspiracy to commit the act,” the judge said.

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Van Buren, who broke all state receiving records last fall at Newbury Park High, had faced up to three years in state prison, but could have received a six-month suspended sentence. He had no previous felony record.

Van Buren, who appeared in court wearing dark denim pants and a white shirt, asked to begin serving his sentence immediately, and did not comment.

His attorney, John B. Miller Jr., said Van Buren lost his full scholarship to the University of Colorado after he was arrested.

“It certainly disrupts his ability to go on with his education and his football career,” the attorney said.

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But Van Buren hopes to win another scholarship to a different school in the spring or next fall, Miller said. No schools have extended offers, but two universities on the West Coast have expressed interest, he said.

“His resources are extremely limited,” Miller said. “In order to go to a good school and get himself an education . . . he’s going to have to pay for it with his football abilities.”

In July, following a three-day trial, a Ventura County jury took less than three hours to convict Van Buren of firing into an occupied dwelling. Attorneys said the key evidence was audiotapes of the football player and his girlfriend-now-wife, Marcie James, identifying Van Buren as the shooter on the day of the incident.

Both later denied that account.

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James, herself a former softball pitcher at Moorpark College, testified that it was a friend of Van Buren’s from Los Angeles who fired the shot through her door. She said she made up the original version out of anger at Van Buren for cheating on her, according to a sentencing report prepared by a probation officer.

The couple have a 2-year-old daughter, Andreya Van Buren.

During Wednesday’s hearing, James’ father made an impassioned plea for the judge to spare his son-in-law jail time and allow him to enroll in a university this fall.

“We think this young man can do something, given the opportunity, . . . he right guidance, and the love of a family,” said Curtis James, a battalion chief with the Los Angeles Fire Department. “He knows now there’s a right and a wrong.”

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The hearing was also attended by Marcie James, other members of her family and Van Buren’s mother, Annie Carter, who sobbed and ran shrieking from the courtroom after the sentence was announced.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Linda Groberg argued that Van Buren deserved an eight-month jail term because he has never admitted responsibility for the shooting.

She cited a passage from a letter Van Buren had written to the court: “I can only say that myself and God are the only ones who truly know of my innocence; however the jury believes otherwise, so I am ready to face the consequences.”

Groberg also asked that Van Buren be ordered to attend a domestic violence diversion program, because he “reacts to problems with violence.”

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Specifically, the prosecutor said Van Buren threatened to kill James after she told sheriff’s deputies that he fired the shot while trying to enter her house.

In contrast, Miller portrayed his client as a “streetwise” and rebellious youth from South-Central Los Angeles who overcame enormous difficulties adjusting to life with a guardian in predominantly white, suburban Thousand Oaks.

In asking for probation and no jail time, Miller described football as the cement that held Van Buren’s academic and social life together. He quoted letters from football coaches and school officials who said Van Buren had matured both on and off the field.

George Hurley, Newbury Park’s head football coach, wrote that Van Buren was only the second freshman in the school’s history to play varsity football.

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“He was so strong on the field and yet so vulnerable socially and emotionally,” the coach wrote.

Hurley described Van Buren as seeming out of place in his freshman year, often standing “with his fists clenched” and not trusting anyone enough to turn his back on them.

But by his junior and senior years, Hurley said, the difference was obvious. Van Buren had become a respected member of the student body who once broke up a fight between two younger students.

“Despite all the obstacles, he had succeeded in moving beyond the limits of his inner-city background,” the coach wrote.

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“He had earned a chance to escape his past, to attend college, to dream of a future.”


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