OAKLAND, Calif. -- The tragic life of James Page, a one-time boxing world champion known more recently for his criminal escapades, emerged in an Oakland courtroom Tuesday as he received a relatively light seven-year prison sentence for a string of bank robberies.
As Page, dressed in yellow prison garb, apologized softly to the bank tellers he menaced during the 2013 robbery spree, his attorney detailed how boxing gave him an escape from a troubled childhood but left him brain-damaged.
Adding to the poignant scene, the judge in the case noted on Tuesday that an error made by a Georgia court in a previous sentencing kept Page in prison four years longer than he should have been there, taking away what might have been his last shot at continuing his boxing career.
Boxing was his only job, and when it was gone, "it destroyed him," Ellen Leonida, his public defender, said.
"He had a profound existential crisis," Leonida said. "He spun out of control."
New court papers filed before Tuesday's sentencing hearing paint a grim picture of Page's childhood and reveal for the first time the extent of damage to his brain from decades of boxing.
His family's home in Pittsburg was a den for heroin addicts, where his mother, other relatives and a revolving door of men openly used drugs in front of him and other children. His brother, two cousins and an uncle were murdered, and most of his 16 maternal aunts and uncles struggled with drugs, according to court papers.
As a teenager and adult, Page himself would struggle with cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana.
Page's boxing career began at age 8, when older boys in his hometown of Pittsburg would pay him to fight other children, according to court papers. He turned pro at 19, and in 1998 knocked out Russian Andrei Pestriaev in Paris to win the World Boxing Association welterweight title.
But boxing had its price for Page. After losing his world championship title, Page was arrested for robbing Atlanta banks and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. He attempted a comeback in 2012 after his release, but lost his first match.
In court papers, Leonida called the loss a "humiliating defeat" for Page, who realized "he would never again be able to box professionally."
"The loss of his vocation plunged him into a depression," Leonida wrote.
During his career, Page was knocked out or dazed on numerous occasions, including his final fight in 2012, when he saw "stars," court papers show. The injuries have impaired his memory and basic cognitive processes like reasoning, problem solving, planning and execution, according to Leonida and a neurologist who evaluated Page in 2013.
"I know it was wrong," Page told the court Tuesday. "With the pressures of life out there and my ego, I decided to take things in my own hands and make poor choices. I made a mistake, a mistake I take responsibility for."
Page had faced up to 20 years in prison as part of his plea deal for the East Bay robberies, but a lighter sentence was handed down in part because of the boxing-related injuries, his difficult childhood, and a mistake made by a Georgia court in 2001. Judge Jeffrey White acknowledged Tuesday that a federal court in Georgia misinterpreted one of his prior misdemeanor convictions as a felony, which resulted in a longer prison sentence of 11 years.
Instead of being released when he was 35 -- an age at which some boxers could still make an impact in the ring -- Page was imprisoned until he was 39. Four months after his last defeat, Page started robbing East Bay banks, taking more than $20,000 in eight heists in Pleasanton, Oakley, Emeryville, Lafayette, Walnut Creek and Antioch between March and early June.
At the end of the hearing, Page's mother, Pamela Page, stood up to thank White: "I want to thank you, your honor, for helping save my son."
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