ULTIMATELY, THE trial of Mark Downs Jr. came down to whether jurors believed that a grown man would take T-ball so seriously that he would offer a nine-year-old $25 to knock a mildly retarded teammate out of a game by hitting him with a baseball. After two days of testimony and seven hours of deliberation, they did. Former coach Downs (below), a 29-year-old construction worker from Dunbar, Pa., was found guilty of criminal conspiracy to commit simple assault and corruption of minors. (He was acquitted of the more serious charge of solicitation to commit aggravated assault, and the jury split on a charge of reckless endangerment.) Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 12.
The star prosecution witness was Keith Reese Jr., who testified that Downs promised him $25 to hit Harry Bowers Jr. during warmups in June 2005. Keith hit Harry once in the head and once in the groin, leaving him unable to play. Keith's father also testified that after the game Downs said that he had done something "pretty ignorant." Downs denied the allegations, but jury forewoman Michele Lynn told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "[Downs] really didn't have the believability or the honesty."
ROBERT ESQUIVEL/UNIONTOWN HERALD-STANDARD/AP (DOWNS)