Heroes to Horrors: Athletes on Trial for Murder

From horrific crimes of passion to a botched hit, take a look at the rap sheets of some pro athletes whose lives have taken a criminal turn.
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Oscar Pistorious Reeva Steekamp Photo

Oscar Pistorious is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. The couple was photographed at an awards event on February 7, 2013, just seven days before Steenkamp was shot to death. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

As the trial of Oscar Pistorius resumes, all eyes are on the South African sprinter accused of shooting his beautiful girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorious’s sob-filled trial is just one in a long list of courtroom dramas where athletes have been accused (and often convicted) of committing horrific crimes. As we've seen in many cases, most notably the O.J. Simpson murder trial, pro athletes can bankroll the best legal defense and they're often too slippery to get stuck with serious punishment.

But many other athletes-turned-criminals haven’t escaped doing time: boxer Mike Tyson spent three years in prison for rape; NFL quarterback Michael Vick served 18 months for running a dog-fighting operation; and even Simpson was eventually locked away for kidnapping and armed robbery.

So, while Pistorius’s fate hangs in the balance, here’s a look at a few pro athletes who have landed in the criminal record books. 

Rae Carruth, NFL Wide Receiver, 1997-99

Rae Carruth Photo

NFL football player Rae Carruth is in jail for conspiracy to commit murder, among other charges related to the death of his pregnant girlfriend. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Crime: On the night of November 16, 1999, Carruth and his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams, were driving on the same quiet North Carolina road in separate cars when Adams was shot four times by a gunman. She stayed alive long enough to describe how Carruth’s car blocked hers to give a clear shot to the killer. Their baby boy was delivered via emergency Cesarean section before his mother lapsed into a coma. Carruth vanished when Adams died a few weeks later, but his accomplices were rounded up and he was found hiding in the trunk of a car outside a Tennessee hotel in mid-December.

Verdict: Carruth's legal team depicted the shooting as a result of a drug deal gone bad, while the prosecution asserted that he had hired the killer to murder Adams because she refused to abort their child.  The football player was eventually convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, discharging a firearm into occupied property and use of an instrument to kill an unborn child. He was sentenced to up to 24 years in prison.

Aftermath: Carruth is serving his sentence in a North Carolina correctional institution, with a projected release date of October 22, 2018. Meanwhile, the unexpected silver lining of the saga has been the survival of the unwanted child: Chancellor Lee Adams, who was born with cerebral palsy, has been described as a happy boy and an inspiration to his community in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Mike Danton, NHL Center, 2001-04

Mike Danton Photo

Hockey player Mike Danton landed in jail for attempting to hire a hit man to kill his former coach-turned-agent. (Photo: Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Crime: In 2004, Danton tried to hire a hit man to kill his former coach-turned-agent, David Frost. Danton made a stupid criminal misstep when he enlisted the help of his girlfriend, who got drunk and asked a stranger in a bar to do the deed. The stranger turned out to be a police dispatcher, who promptly notified the FBI, and Danton was arrested on April 16th. No motive was ever given for the attempt, though investigative journalists weeded out the story of the unusually close relationship between Danton and Frost, who lived together while the player was clawing his way through hockey’s minor leagues.

Verdict: Danton pled guilty to conspiracy to commit murder, and was sentenced to 90 months in prison.

Aftermath: Danton did a solid job of getting his life back on track. After his early release in September 2009, he enrolled at St. Mary's University in Halifax, Canada, where he became an Academic All-Canadian and helped its hockey team win the national championship. He has since resumed his professional hockey career with stints in Sweden, the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan and Poland.

Ugueth Urbina, MLB Relief Pitcher, 1995-2005

Ugueth Urbina Photo

Baseball player Ugueth Urbina was convicted of attempted murder after allegedly attacking workers at his ranch with a machete and setting them on fire. (Photo: Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

Crime: Having returned to his native Venezuela at the conclusion of the Major League Baseball season, Urbina found several of his hired hands drinking and living it up at his ranch on the night of October 15, 2005. According to his attorney, the big league pitcher expressed disappointment in their behavior and left to go to sleep. According to the workers, Urbina returned with friends and turned into a raging psychopath, attacking them with machetes and setting them on fire. Investigations stalled until the Venezuelan National Guard got involved, and Urbina was arrested on November 7th.

Verdict: Urbina was sentenced to 14 years in prison for attempted murder.

Aftermath: With few details of the case made available, and any trace of Urbina seemingly wiped off the face of the planet, baseball fans were left to ponder the truth of the bizarre story. The pitcher earned his release 5 ½ years into his sentence, and resumed his professional baseball career in Venezuela in October 2013.

Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter, Middleweight Boxer, 1961-66

Rubin Carter Photo

Boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was wrongfully convicted of a triple murder and imprisoned for nearly two decades. He was exonerated in 1985 and became an activist for the wrongfully convicted. (Photo: FPG/Getty Images)

Crime: If you're familiar with the Bob Dylan song "Hurricane" or the movie The Hurricane, starring Denzel Washington,  then you know the narrative here: In the early hours of June 17, 1966, two black men killed three white customers at the Lafayette Grill in Patterson, New Jersey. Rubin Carter and his friend John Artis were pulled over shortly afterward because a) they were two black men; and b) their car reportedly resembled the getaway vehicle. The jury was swayed by the testimonies of Al Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley, two petty criminals who were on their way to burglarizing a nearby factory when they witnessed Carter and Artis fleeing the Lafayette Grill.

Verdict: Carter received 30 years to life and Artis 15 years to life, but the legal maneuverings were far from finished...

Aftermath: Bello and Bradley separately recanted their testimonies in 1974, leading to a groundswell of public support spearheaded by such celebrities as Dylan and Muhammad Ali. Carter and Artis were released on bail in early 1976, but Bello recanted his recantation during a second trial, and the original ruling was upheld. Artis earned his parole in 1981, but Carter waited four more years before a federal district judge overturned the conviction on constitutional grounds. His boxing career finished, Carter moved to Toronto and became executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. He died of prostate cancer on April 20, 2014, with his old friend Artis by his side.

Aaron Hernandez, NFL Tight End, 2010-12

Aaron Hernandez Photo

Football player Aaron Hernandez was indicted for murder in 2013 and is under investigation for two other murders, although he maintains his innocence. (Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Crime: On the morning of June 17, 2013, the body of a man named Odin Lloyd was found near Aaron Hernandez's house in North Attleborough, Massachusetts. Investigators traced a path to the NFL star, who was engaged to Lloyd's sister, and he was arrested on June 26 after evidence tied him to a rented car and gun shell casings from the crime scene. While prosecuting attorneys originally described Hernandez as a man seething over Lloyd's interactions with rivals, it was later suggested that he pulled the trigger to prevent Lloyd from spilling the beans about another murder.

Verdict: To be determined. After his arrest, Hernandez was sued by a Florida man who said he had been shot by the football player, and an investigation was opened into his connection to the deaths of two men from July 2012. Hernandez currently waits without bail in a Bristol County correctional facility, where he has done little to soften his public image by allegedly fighting with other inmates and threatening a guard.