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June 05, 2017

War Machine: What It Takes To Sentence a Serial Abuser

LAS VEGAS, Nev.—After several postponements, the sentencing of Jonathan Koppenhaver, who legally changed his name to "War Machine" in 2008, got off to a late start this morning, as Las Vegas Superior Court Judge Elissa Cadish wanted to clear her calendar of other matters before tackling what she knew would be a lengthy discussion of what to do with the famous mixed martial artist (MMA) who had beaten his porn star former girlfriend Christy Mack nearly to death, and inflicted much damage on Christy's friend Corey Thomas. As the hearing got under way at about 10:20 a.m., the first order of business was to deal with the defense's motion for a new trial, which attorney Jay Liederman had only recently filed, although Nevada law requires that such motions be filed within seven days of a verdict, unless such requirement is amended by the judge. Liederman argued that he had put Judge Cadish on notice that he would be filing such a motion on the day the jury delivered its verdicts, but the judge ruled, after nearly a half hour of argument on Liederman's part, that Liederman's motion had not been timely filed, and she denied it. Also under discussion was a motion as to whether the judge should have allowed the defense to argue at trial that Koppenhaver had been "unconscious" during the times he beat Mack and Thomas, and Liederman cited case law dating back to the late 1800s which, he said, distinguished the state of unconsciousness from the legally recognized terms of "insanity" and "diminished capacity"—and that therefore, any counts in the indictment which described the defendant as having "knowingly" committed various acts should not have been considered by the jury. But in response to questioning by the judge, who pointed out some of Koppenhaver's clearly conscious actions and words during the altercation at issue, all Liederman could offer was that his medical expert, Dr. Stephen Holper, who had seen an MRI taken of Koppenhaver's brain, had testified that there was evidence of traumatic brain injury which left a frontal lobe lesion in Koppenhaver's brain, which allegedly caused the "unconsciousness." However, as the judge pointed out, Dr. Holper had been unable to point to such lesion on the MRI when it was displayed in court during the trial, and she therefore rejected Liederman's arguments that testimony of the alleged lesion should have been considered by the jury. After reading a list of the charges of which Koppenhaver had been convicted, Judge Cadish then allowed prosecutor Jacqueline Bluth to argue what sentences should be imposed. Bluth said that she'd considered putting together a sentencing memorandum, but felt that simply speaking her thoughts to the court would be better. "At the end of the day, this case is no different than any other case that I've had in this department, or any case that Your Honor deals with," she began. "There's this idea that this case should represent something different because of who the victim is and who the defendant is. I find that notion disgusting. I think that no matter who walks in these doors, they should be treated the same by this court, they should be treated the same by the state and should be treated by the defendant, and if I'm being quite honest, I don't give a damn who Christy Mack is, who War Machine is; I don't care if there's one camera in here, I don't care if there's 50. What I care about is [the non-porn Christy Mack] and Jonathan Koppenhaver and what happened in the 15 months of that relationship, and what's right and what's just—and the notion of anything different because of who these individuals are is not right." Bluth said that one of her main concerns was that a situation like this involving Koppenhaver doesn't happen again, and to drive home that point, Bluth used a PowerPoint display which highlighted Koppenhaver's interactions with law enforcement dating back to February of 2002. "The biggest predictor [of reoffending] is looking at history," she said, "so what I did was go through all of the criminal history of the defendant, and I have these [documents] if you have any specific questions about the cases I'm about to talk about." Bluth also quoted from Koppenhaver's MySpace page, where he'd written, in part, "I'm a different breed of human. I don't follow or go along with the current hype. I do what the fuck I want to do and could care less what anyone thinks of me ... I fight not because I love the sport but because I hate the world and the sheep that live in it ... My soul yearns for a real war. The feeling I get from destroying my enemy is far better than giving the love of even the most beautiful woman—and by the way, when I speak of war or enemies, it has nothing to do with any country or politic. I am against most war of that nature. Real war is fought between those who know and hate each other. Anyone who has experienced this knows its beauty." As her recitation progressed, Bluth noted the many times that Koppenhaver had excused his actions because he had been "depressed," had been "drinking too much and acting stupid," or any of several other "reasons" that deflected any personal responsibility for his actions. She also quoted from Koppenhaver's Twitter feed an hour after he'd been sentenced to probation in a prior case, where he wrote, "How can a fat cunt who hasn't brushed her hair in weeks judge me? What has the world come to?" Finally, Bluth gave her recommendation: "I think what would be fair, Your Honor, is if you sentence the defendant on Count 7 for the Boulevard Mall incident, which is the first degree kidnapping with substantial bodily harm, to a minimum term of 15 and a maximum term of life; on Count 25, sex assault with a deadly weapon with substantial bodily harm, I'd ask that you also sentence him to 15 to life with those terms served consecutively; Count 31 is battery by strangulation for Corey Thomas, I do think the defendant should also take responsibility and serve time on the actions committed against Mr. Thomas, and ... I'd ask that he be given a term of 24 to 60 [months] to be served consecutively, so Your Honor, that would be about 32 years to life in prison." The court then called on Koppenhaver himself, who delivered a somewhat rambling defense. "Not a day goes by that I don't seriously regret all those things that I did. I was a very, very lost, very empty person. And to top it off, something's not right with my head. Plain and simple. I've known that a long time and I've hated it. I've hated the way that I think. I've hated my impulses. Half the time, I don't know why I do some of the things I do. And some of the times I do things and I don't even feel like I did them until it's already done." He also claimed to hate himself, stating, "Smashing my face was like a sick form of therapy. It was the only thing I could do to prevent myself from killing myself." However, he said, his stay in prison before trial had resulted in a religious conversion, which had allowed him to "grow into a real man," thanks to having read two books by religion author Lee Strobel. Koppenhaver's attorney Jay Liederman then spoke, and over the next hour, he stated that his client had experienced "a genuine conversion, a giving over of himself to Christ," which had "changed his point of view"; that Koppenhaver had been abused as a child and who "witnessed his mother every night passed out in a puddle of her own vomit or urine or both, and his father every night coming home, washing her off and beating her"; that he'd never had therapy to deal with his "depression and the rage and the anxiety panic"—and basically that Koppenhaver suffered from "bad karma." After Liederman finished his long, often rambling argument, the court took a long break, and when it resumed, Judge Cadish and the attorneys watched a video recording of Koppenhaver's mother pleading for leniency for her son, which recording for some technical reason could not be played in open court. Bluth then called to the witness stand Corey Thomas, who related an incident he had witnessed where Koppenhaver had beaten up one of Thomas' friends at a bar in San Diego, concluding, "I have all the confidence in the world in Your Honor. I'm concerned with time defense has wasted. It's his fault he did it ... The minimums do not apply in this sentencing. He's wasted everyone's time." Next to take the stand was Christy's mother Erin, who through tears told the judge, "Every time I think about this I get so mad. I don't even know half of what happened to my daughter ... There is nothing more precious to me than my children. He needs to spend rest of his life in prison." Finally, Bluth called Christy Mack herself, and after describing the evolution of her relationship with the defendant (as quoted here), she reflected on how Koppenhaver's incarceration would affect her life. "I think I can truly help others with my experiences," she told the court. "I feel I have to stay strong for everybody. I'm still a work in progress," adding in anticipation of what her former lover's sentence might be, "I don't know if my life will feel complete in 12 years or 30 years and neither do you, but I do know when he gets out he will kill me." After hearing the victims' statements and considering the voluminous letters of support she had received from Koppenhaver's friends, family and fans, Judge Cadish was ready to deliver her sentence. After noting that she wished Koppenhaver had "received counseling as a child," and stating that she understood that rage can often require a trigger, she nonetheless sentenced the defendant on the 29 counts for which he'd been convicted. Barring any successful appeals, Koppenhaver will be spending at least 36 years in prison before he can apply for parole in 2053, at which point the 35-year-old would be 71—though he may be in prison possibly for as long as the term on his natural life. Pictured: Prosecutor Jacqueline Bluth addressing the court.

 
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