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Thursday, March 13
Updated: March 25, 2:14 PM ET
Judge's 'abuse of discretion' requires new hearing

Associated Press

MIAMI -- A state appeals court has thrown out the 15-year sentence of former Miami Dolphins running back Cecil Collins, ruling that the judge in his burglary trial didn't give his relatives a chance to testify on his behalf.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal on Wednesday upheld Collins' burglary conviction for sneaking into his neighbors' apartment while they slept early on the morning of Dec. 16, 1999.

But the panel threw out the sentence because Broward County Judge Joyce Julian sentenced Collins within about an hour of the jury's verdict, despite protests from his attorneys that they needed time to fly in Collins' parents and coaches from Louisiana to testify.

Julian had earlier adjourned the trial for three days to allow prosecutors to bring in witnesses but denied a similar request from defense attorneys before sentencing.

Appellate Judge Melanie May wrote that Julian's actions showed a "palpable abuse of discretion" and that she should have granted Collins the right to present witnesses on his behalf for sentencing.

Collins, 26, has served three years of the maximum 15-year sentence. His attorney, Sebastian Cotrone, said he was glad the sentence was thrown out, but still believes Collins got "bamboozled" in court and deserves a new trial.

Prosecutor Greg Rossman said he was pleased that the conviction was upheld. Rossman said he will ask for a 15-year sentence at Collins' new sentencing hearing.

Collins will be sentenced by a different judge because Julian lost her seat on the bench last year.

Collins was convicted in March 2001 on charges he broke into an apartment where Tina Nolte and her husband, Ron, were sleeping. They awoke to see him and recognized him as their neighbor.

When arrested later, Collins told police he only wanted to watch Tina as she slept.

Collins had a similar burglary conviction while attending LSU in 1997 and was on probation when he was arrested two years later.

Despite his troubles, Collins was touted as an extremely talented running back, and the Dolphins picked him in the fifth round of the 1999 draft. That season, he started six games, rushing for 414 yards and two touchdowns before breaking his leg.

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