JACKSON, Mississippi — A Bible-quoting judge did not allow religion to influence the 300-month sentence given to a former prep football coach who had been accused of molestation, a federal appeals panel has ruled.
Dwight Bowling, a former Mississippi and Alabama high school football coach, pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice and two counts of transportation of a minor in interstate commerce with intent to engage in sexual activity in 2011 in federal court in Mississippi. He was sentenced to 300 months in prison.
Bowling coached for 28 years at Smithville, Mississippi, before retiring and coaching at Sulligent High in Sulligent, Alabama. The molestations alleged in his indictment are said to have happened between 2004 and 2010.
Bowling was coaching for the Alabama school when he was arrested Sept. 18, 2010, in Mississippi on his way home from a game. Authorities said a 13-year-old boy who was with Bowling at the time of his arrest accused him of improper touching.
The investigation uncovered at least four victims, boys between the ages of 13 and 18.
Bowling challenged his sentence as too harsh. His attorneys argued in briefs that U.S. District Judge Glenn H. Davidson departed from guidelines in sentencing Bowling. Bowling also argued Davidson made reference to three specific Bible versions in comments before sentencing, showing he was being "unduly influenced by outside sources."
Bowling's attorneys said federal sentencing guidelines call for a much shorter prison term than what Davidson ordered.
Federal prosecutors said Bowling and his attorney mentioned "sins" and "forgiveness from God" during the sentencing and Davidson was responding to those statements.
Prosecutor said the judge's response to Bowling's citation of forgiveness and a Bible story of King David and Bathsheba did not constitute an improper external influence on the court. They said the judge used the verses to emphasize the damage Bowling had done to the victims, their families and the community.
The 5th Circuit panel agreed with prosecutors.
"The judge sought to impart to Bowling that his conduct was contrary to his professed beliefs and underscore that he violated a well-established principle that minors should be protected from harm," the panel said.
"In any event, the record does not support that the judge sentenced Bowling more severely because of religion. Instead, the judge found that an upward variance was proper due to the heinous nature of Bowling's crime, which involved the long-term sexual abuse of a minor and an attempt to induce the minor to lie under oath to enable Bowling to evade prosecution," the panel said.