A judge ruled she won’t send LSU running back Jeremy Hill to jail for a probation violation last spring, a ruling that leaves it up to coach Les Miles to decide whether the Tigers’ suspended leading rusher last season will return to the team.
Miles did not immediately comment on the ruling or Hill’s future, but players expressed hope after practice Monday that Hill would return.
"He’s our brother. We still talk to him, still encourage him, still love him," offensive tackle La’el Collins said. "I would love to have him back. No doubt about it. There wouldn’t be a second thought. … I’m pretty sure he’s humbled and he’s worked everything out. He’s seen the effect that it’s taken on him and he’s going to make better decisions."
Hill was caught on video punching a man outside a bar last spring. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery — a violation of his probation from an earlier misdemeanor stemming from his sexual relationship with a then-14-year-old girl at his high school.
During Monday’s hearing, State District Judge Bonnie Jackson was scheduled to review more restrictive terms she attached to Hill’s first probation — including a 9 p.m to 6 a.m. curfew and bar ban — in May, shortly after Hill’s late-April arrest. Jackson also decided to take up prosecutors’ motion, filed last month, to revoke Hill’s probation, rather than letting that process drag on. Her decision to do so came on the first day of LSU practice.
While Jackson kept Hill on probation, she added 40 hours of community service to his sentence while also agreeing to curfew flexibility when Hill needs to be out for football, including games and travel.
Hill did not speak to reporters on his way out of court after Monday’s hearing, but defense attorney Marci Blaize said, "Obviously, we’re very excited with the ruling. We hope that will put an end to it."
The judge also admonished Hill for the "arrogance" he displayed on the video, particularly the way he could be seen laughing after throwing the punch. She told Hill that is why many people wanted to see him jailed.
"To see you laughing about having sucker-punched that young man struck people as being extremely arrogant. It struck people as seeing someone who felt they had a sense of entitlement: `I’m Jeremy Hill and I can do whatever I want to do. Ha, ha, ha,’" Jackson said. "Bar fights happen all the time. I don’t think if this had just been a bar fight people’s emotions would have been worked up as much as they were."
However, Jackson also told the 20-year-old Hill that she understands young people make "immature decisions — but do you learn from those?"
Hill said he was "terribly sorry" and that he "let my emotions get the best of me." He stressed that he is now focused on church, his family, hanging around "better people" and aims to help "teach younger people to not be in situations like I have."
Since his latest plea in July, Hill has been serving two overlapping two-year probation terms.
Hill’s earlier probation stemmed from his January 2012 guilty plea to misdemeanor carnal knowledge of a juvenile. That plea deal allowed him to avoid felony charges and enroll at LSU. The bar scuffle ultimately led to the second probation term, along with a second six-month suspended sentence.
District attorney Hillar Moore said he respected Jackson’s decision, but thought revoking probation was in order, given that after Hill’s first arrest, prosecutors assured Hill’s teenage victim and her mother that Hill would go to jail if he ran afoul of the law again.
Moore also sounded skeptical about whether Hill’s apology was genuine, but hoped the running back would make the most of his second chance.
"He spoke about how things have changed," Moore began, but added "I’m not sure how much change you can make" in the few months since the arrest.
After last month’s plea, State District Judge Michael Erwin, at the victim’s request, ordered Hill and a co-defendant, Robert Bayardo, not to comment publicly about the case.
Erwin has also ordered Hill to pay half of his victim’s $750 in medical expenses, undergo anger management counseling and perform 50 hours of community service.
Prosecutors said the victim outside the bar, an LSU student, did not ask for jail time.
Hill rushed for 755 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012, his freshman season. Hill got increased playing time after season-opening starter Alfred Blue went out with a season-ending knee injury in LSU’s third game. Blue has returned this season, as has junior running back Kenny Hilliard.
"It was a stupid mistake and I feel like he’s learned. … If he stays close to his family, his family will lead him the right way. "Hilliard said of Hill. "I’m going to do what I can to help him."