Jamaican athlete Steve Mullings was yesterday handed a lifetime ban from all sports by the three-member Jamaica Anti-Doping disciplinary panel, after he tested positive for the prohibited substance Furosemide during the National Track and Field Senior Trials in June.
The panel, consisting of chairman Lennox Gayle, former FIFA referee Peter Prendergast and Dr Japheth Ford, unanimously decided that the beleaguered 28-year-old be given a career-ending sanction.
"It is our unanimous decision that he be ineligible from sports for life," Gayle declared after a ten-minute break in the session at the Jamaica Conference Centre.
Last Thursday the panel found the United States-based Mullings guilty of the violation, but the sentencing was put off to give the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCo) enough time to obtain relevant documents from the local governing athletics body.
The documents were said to contain information applicable to Mullings's two-year anti-doping ban in 2004 and were deemed to be crucial in determining the magnitude of yesterday's sanction.
Gayle explained yesterday that the panel was "satisfied that Mr Mullings is a multiple offender" and added that "a clear message must be sent to everyone. Prohibited substances must not be used".
Earlier in the afternoon, the sitting officially began an hour and a quarter after the scheduled 2:00 pm start.
JADCo's attorney Lackston Robinson told the panel that the information provided by the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) was incomplete, because, while it stated that Mullings tested positive for methyl testosterone metabolite in 2004, it did not classify the accompanying sanction.
That shortcoming led Robinson to refer to International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) rules, which point to sanctions for second time anti-doping violations.
He said that both of Mullings' breaches are "standard violations" and charged that, based on "the chart (guideline) the possible sanction is eight years to life".
He asked that the panel consider that Mullings did not attend any sitting of the case and did not present any witness in an attempt to prove his innocence. He said that the athlete should be punished to the fullest of the law and added that "a message should be sent" to potential violators.
In response, Mullings' lawyer Alando Terrelonge noted that the letter from the JAAA did not address the classification of the previous sanction.
He argued that with regards to sentencing, his client should benefit from any doubt surrounding whether he was found to have intentionally tried to enhance his performance.
Terrelonge described Mullings as a "talented athlete", who should not be punished for being absent from the hearing. He asked the panel to "not be swayed by prejudice or hostility" towards Mullings and added that a life ban would be "draconian".
He returned to the point he made during a submission over a week ago that JADCo's rules allow for an athlete to be represented even if he or she is absent.
Asked Terrelonge: "Are we penalising this young man for not coming (to the hearing) or are we interested in the justice of the case?"
He contended that Mullings' current situation is dissimilar to "extreme cases", which he said warrant life bans under the provisions of the IAAF and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules.
According to Terrelonge, a four-to-six or six-to-eight-year ban, depending on the panel's interpretation of the rules, would be a more just punishment.
Furosemide is a potent diuretic that increases the release of fluids and other substances from the body and can be used to conceal the presence of other drugs.
Mullings, who is also represented by attorneys Allison Strange and Ryan Cipparone of the Florida-based law firm Bret Jones PA, has strongly denied any wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, it is likely that the sprinter will challenge the panel's ruling at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
By Sanjay Myers