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Carolina Panthers’ Greg Hardy permanently stained by crazy day in court

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/15/22/36/IdsM7.Em.138.jpeg|223
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    (Center) Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy points to the curb so members of the media don't trip as he exits the Mecklenburg County Courthouse on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 in Charlotte, NC. Hardy was scheduled to be in court Tuesday to face charges that he beat up his ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder during an altercation at his residence in May. The court sentenced Hardy to 60 days suspended sentence and 18 months probation. He can travel with the team. Hardy will appeal, requesting a jury trial in Superior Court.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/15/22/36/1ebtvh.Em.138.jpeg|247
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    (Center) Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy climbs into an SUV after exiting the Mecklenburg County Courthouse on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 in Charlotte, NC. Hardy was scheduled to be in court Tuesday to face charges that he beat up his ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder during an altercation at his residence in May. The court sentenced Hardy to 60 days suspended sentence and 18 months probation. He can travel with the team. Hardy will appeal, requesting a jury trial in Superior Court.

It was a packed courtroom trial smashed into one “I’ll show you crazy” day. There was sex, lies, videotape, cocaine, assault rifles and a controversial “party foul.”

Ultimately, no one came out of Greg Hardy’s one-day “he-said, she-said” trial looking really good. But Hardy, by far, got the worst of it. A judge found the Carolina Panthers defensive end guilty on Tuesday of two misdemeanors – assaulting a female and communicating threats – stemming from a May 13 confrontation with his former girlfriend.

Hardy’s attorneys immediately appealed the verdict, so Hardy will now be granted a jury trial. It is quite possible given the crowded court calendar that the trial won’t happen until after the upcoming Panthers season.

By then, it is also quite possible Hardy will have played his last game for Carolina. The team is renting him for one year this season at the exorbitant price of $13.1 million guaranteed. He will play this season for Carolina, but even before this incident there were questions about whether the Panthers should tie up tens of millions of dollars on Hardy past 2014.

Now there are more questions. Hardy’s domestic violence charges have shown a darker side to the player who bills himself as the “Kraken” after a mythological sea monster. It’s very hard to imagine the Panthers – whose name is getting sullied in these proceedings just like Hardy’s – will grant Hardy a massive contract extension now. Not after this. Not even after he tied the team record last season with 15 sacks.

Tuesday’s trial before District Judge Becky Thorne Tin was a deep dive into the volatile nature of Hardy’s relationship with former girlfriend Nicole Holder. Every witness on both sides who knew the pair agreed that they fought. A lot.

Holder and Hardy – who met because he used to date her ex-roommate – testified separately. Their stories were area codes apart. They couldn’t even agree if they had ever lived together. He said they didn’t; she said they did.

They started dating last football season and broke up sometime around February. But Hardy said he kept in contact with her and they occasionally had sex after that.

The judge ultimately believed Holder about the most important part of the trial. She said she had feared for her life in the early morning hours of May 13 after she and Hardy argued inside the uptown apartment she said the two of them used to share, and he put his hands around her neck.

“He looked me in my eyes and he told me he was going to kill me,” said Holder, an EpiCentre nightclub waitress. “I was so scared I wanted to die. When he loosened his grip slightly, I said ‘Just do it. Kill me.’  

Holder also said Hardy threw her onto a futon that held several guns that night, injuring her. When Holder was asked why she didn’t pick up one and defend herself, she said she wouldn’t have known how to use it.

Hardy testified that he never hurt Holder, that any wounds she received that night were self-inflicted and that she threatened to kill herself.

But the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case pointed out several discrepancies in Hardy’s 911 call to police. She was also helped by a key corroborating witness named Christina Lawrence, who was in Hardy’s apartment during the confrontation but barely knew either Hardy or Holden. Tin said that Lawrence was the only witness with “nothing to gain” on either side by testifying, and Lawrence had heard (but not seen) much of the argument between Hardy and Holder that night.

Tin said she found Holder a “consistent” and “credible” witness in regard to what happened that night. And that statement came even after Holder admitted she had used cocaine earlier in the evening.

Other things we learned Tuesday in the courtroom:

•  The number of guns Hardy had to surrender to police after this confrontation is quite striking when they are all displayed together, as they were for this trial and surely will be again for the jury trial. Hardy looked a little like he was preparing for Armageddon.

•  What the term “party foul” means. Maybe you know. I certainly didn’t. Several witnesses spoke about Hardy accidentally knocking over a glass of champagne early in the evening and his personal assistant yelling “Party Foul!” for this faux pas.

Depending on whom you believe, Hardy then either stormed out of his own apartment because he was so angry at being called for a party foul (Holder’s version) or he left to get away from Holder and to go finish up some work on one of his rap music projects (Hardy’s version).

•  Hardy said he is a peace lover who broke up with Holder because he was tired of arguing with her. “I’m not one to fight,” he said on the stand. “I don’t even fight dudes.”

•  A police officer testified that Holder had told him Hardy flew into a jealous rage that night in part because of her short-lived relationship with the rapper Nelly. Holder said during her testimony that at one point in the night, when Hardy was already angry at her: “To top everything off, a Nelly song came on.”

It was a dramatic day in many places, but it was also sad on a number of levels – from all that happened that night to the fact that the player the Panthers placed their franchise tag on in February found himself in a courtroom in July.

And one thing is now certain – even if Hardy ultimately wins his jury trial, his reputation in the Carolinas will be permanently stained.

Fowler: 704-358-5140; sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler
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