UNIONTOWN, Pa. - A youth baseball coach accused of offering an 8-year-old money to bean an autistic teammate so he couldn’t play was sentenced Thursday to one to six years in prison.
Fayette County Judge Ralph Warman sentenced 29-year-old Mark R. Downs Jr. of Dunbar, Pa. to consecutive six-to-36-month sentences for corruption of minors and criminal solicitation to commit simple assault. A jury convicted Downs in September.
Warman revoked Downs’ bond and sent him to prison.
Downs didn’t speak at the sentencing but told reporters “I didn’t do nothing” as he was led out of the courtroom.
His attorney, Thomas Shaffer, said Downs was upset and looked forward to appealing the verdict. Downs was ordered Thursday to undergo a mental health evaluation and barred from coaching any youth league sport while on parole.
Authorities said Downs offered to pay one of his players $25 to hit Harry Bowers, a mildly autistic teammate, with a ball while warming up before a June 2005 playoff game. Prosecutors said Downs wanted the 9-year-old out of the game, because the boy didn’t play as well as his teammates.
Player Keith Reese Jr. said he purposely threw a ball that hit Bowers in the groin and another that hit Bowers in the ear, on Downs’ instructions. Downs denied offering to pay Reese to hurt Bowers.
“These acts are extremely outrageous and extremely reprehensible since the defendant was involved in the coaching of a youth league,” Warman said.
Bowers’ mother, Jennifer Bowers, said Thursday that since her son was hit, she has struggled to get him to try new activities. She said the boy fears that he would get hurt again.
Downs was acquitted on a more serious charge of criminal solicitation to commit aggravated assault. Jurors deadlocked on a charge of reckless endangerment. The judge declared a mistrial on the endangerment charge, and prosecutors said they wouldn’t retry him.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.