In November, former Omaha Central basketball player Benny “BJ” Valentine sat before a judge and asked for probation for dealing marijuana.
His attorney cast the crime as Valentine selling weed to friends so he could smoke some for free. His probation officer and former youth football coach, Forrest Roper, even went to bat for him — giving an impassioned plea about how Valentine needed a second chance to decide whether he wanted to “grow up in the penitentiary system or in the real world.”
Douglas County District Judge J. Michael Coffey changed his mind — setting aside a prison order to give him two years of probation.
Here's what Valentine did with that second chance:
Five days after he was put on probation, prosecutors say, Valentine flew to Texas to participate in a home-invasion robbery that ended in the death of his friend and fellow former Omaha basketball standout, Nedu Onyeuku.
On Nov. 21, the 29-year-old Onyeuku — once a star at Omaha Creighton Prep —died when a homeowner shot at two men trying to break into his Plano, Tex., house.
Rumors immediately surfaced in Omaha that Valentine was the second burglar — and that his relatives had driven to Texas to return him back to Omaha.
Then, on April 9, Valentine called his probation officer. According to a court document filed last week, Valentine told the probation officer that he “went to Plano, Texas, and his intention was to do a home invasion — the plan was to rob a known drug dealer.”
“Subsequently, a homicide took place,” according to the court document filed by prosecutor Bill Ouren. Under terms of his probation, Valentine was not to leave Douglas County without permission.
Valentine, 25, now is in the Douglas County Jail. If convicted of the probation violation, he would face up to five years in prison — the maximum sentence on his original drug dealing charge.
Meanwhile, the investigation into Onyeuku's death continues.
The November sentencing wasn't the first “second chance” Valentine had been given.
Valentine was convicted of two felonies in 2005. One involved the possession of a gun. In a separate incident, prosecutors say, the then-18-year-old was an accessory to a carjacking. Valentine had faced up to 10 years in prison, but a judge sentenced him to 60 days in jail and three years of probation.
At that sentencing, Valentine's attorney had pleaded with the judge for probation so that Valentine could retain a scholarship to Texas Tech to play basketball for then-coach Bob Knight. Valentine stayed there for a year before finishing out his college career, and earning a business degree, at Eastern Washington University.
At the November sentencing, Valentine's new attorney, Assistant Public Defender Rob Marcuzzo, said Valentine needed to choose better in terms of his peers.
Valentine, who works as a car detailer, is not and never has been a drug dealer, Marcuzzo said at the time.
On July 31, 2012, Omaha police pulled over Valentine for rolling through a stop sign. His car smelled like marijuana and they found $1,120 in cash and about 145 grams of marijuana — the equivalent of 145 marijuana joints. Valentine told officers he sold small amounts of marijuana to his friends so he could keep “some of the weed for free,” according to Marcuzzo.
Valentine also had been charged with being a felon in possession of a weapon for an April 2012 traffic stop in which officers found him with weed, $1,148 in cash and a gun in a car. However, Marcuzzo said, the gun belonged to someone else, and prosecutors dropped that charge.
At that November sentencing, Judge Coffey reviewed Valentine's record, the police reports and probation recommendations. He even held up a prison order, spelling out that Valentine would spend the next year to 18 months in prison.
Roper, the probation officer, then vouched for Valentine. And the judge changed his mind.
“I don't go to bat for just anyone, ” Roper told the judge. “Benny has to grow up. Whether he wants to grow up in the penitentiary system or in the real world, that's on him.”