Mistrial declared for ex-football player in NC agents case

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (AP) — A judge has declared a mistrial in the case of a former college football player charged with violating North Carolina’s sports agent law nearly a decade ago.

Christopher Hawkins faced four counts tied to providing cash to three former Tar Heels football players in 2010. But after more than seven hours of deliberations Friday afternoon and Monday, the jury informed Superior Court Judge John O. Craig III that it couldn’t reach an unanimous verdict on any charge.

That leaves open the possibility of another trial. Prosecutor W. Scott Harkey and defense attorney Natasha A. Adams declined to comment about the next steps.

Hawkins — who played at UNC and Marshall from 2001-05 — was first charged in 2015, with prosecutors adding additional charges last April. The biggest amount involved was $13,700 to Robert Quinn — now a nine-year NFL veteran who never played in the 2010 season and was declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA that fall — as well as helping him sell game-used equipment for another $1,700.

The additional charges involved Hawkins providing money to former UNC football players Charles Brown ($1,000) and Kendric Burney ($1,500) to acquire game-used equipment for sale through a memorabilia dealer.

Monday’s mistrial comes nearly a decade after the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office began its investigation, which followed an NCAA probe launched in summer 2010 into improper benefits and academic misconduct within the UNC football program. UNC faces no punitive actions from case developments because the NCAA issued sanctions in March 2012 to resolve the case that involved Hawkins.

In all, six people were charged in the Secretary of State’s investigation. The first five were charged in September 2013 and those cases were resolved through either dismissals or deals by prosecutors — notably with former NFL agent Terry Watson pleading guilty in April 2017. He was sentenced to probation and a fine.

Hawkins’ case was the only one to reach trial.

Testimony began Wednesday, starting with prosecutors calling cooperating witness Louis Martin “Marty” Blazer III from the federal corruption investigation into college basketball followed by Quinn on Thursday via video from Texas.

Harkey had argued to the jury that Hawkins was trying to steer Quinn to sign with Blazer as a financial adviser or with NFL agent Peter Schaffer, who has not been charged with wrongdoing and has denied providing improper benefits to any UNC players in previous interviews with The Associated Press.

Defense attorneys had portrayed Hawkins as a mentor helping players, with Adams telling the jury Friday that Hawkins was not a runner, nor an employee of Blazer or Schaffer.

The state’s Uniform Athlete Agents Act prohibits illegally luring collegiate athletes into contracts by providing them eligibility-jeopardizing money, gifts or other items of value to entice them to sign contracts. A version of the act has been in place in at least 40 states and other jurisdictions, though cases are rarely pursued and difficult to prosecute.

In North Carolina, it’s a low-level felony.