'96 Lotto Winner Gets Probation!

'96 Lotto Winner Gets Probation!
Posted by FoM on February 18, 1999 at 07:12:00 PT

Marcelo Hernandez has had more than his share of luck over the past few years. The good news came in 1996 when he hit paydirt by winning a $3.5 million Texas Lotto jackpot. But luck's pendulum swung the other way Wednesday when he was sentenced to two years' probation and fined $10,000 for possession of cocaine. 
Hernandez, 53, of Natalia, pleaded no contest last month to the fourth-degree felony. He was arrested Jan. 2, 1998, after authorities caught him and a co-defendant with less than a gram of cocaine. Although 186th District Judge Sam Katz approved the state's recommendation for two years of probation, the judge balked at the prosecution's suggestion that Hernandez be fined $1,000. Katz had the discretion to change the fine because lawyers on both sides couldn't agree on an amount. The judge said he was tempted to increase the fine moments after he learned Hernandez's annual payments from the jackpot were more than $122,000 after taxes. After noting that in court, Katz said Hernandez cracked a wry smile. That's when the judge bumped the fine to $10,000, the maximum allowable for the fourth-degree felony. "I would dare say there are probably 9 million individuals in the state of Texas that would like to find themselves the winner of a lottery like you," Katz told Hernandez, adding: "And yet, of all those 9 million people, you are here in my court today. "You know, I am just totally astounded." Later, prosecutor Mary Nelda Valadez said the state was unaware Hernandez was a jackpot winner until Katz pointed it out. "We would've asked for more if we knew he was a lotto winner," Valadez said. Hernandez's attorney, Luis Vera, called the fine "unheard of," and vowed to appeal. "He got hit harder than he should've been just because he was a lotto winner," Vera said. He maintained his client's arrest was illegal because officers hadn't obtained permission to search the premises. 
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