Former UFC and Bellator MMA fighter War Machine has been sentenced to 36 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving 36 years for the brutal beating of his ex-girlfriend, Christy Mack, and her boyfriend, Corey Thomas.
Machine, born Jon Koppenhaver, will be 71 years old when he becomes eligible for parole.
In March, Machine was found guilty on 29 of 34 charges after two days of jury deliberation. The charges included sexual assault, kidnapping and coercion, though the jury deadlocked on the most serious charges of attempted murder.
Clark County District Judge Elissa Cadish denied last-minute motions filed by Machine’s defense attorneys for a new trial, claiming there was evidence the fighter was unconscious during the beating and thus not fully aware of his actions.
While Cadish expressed sympathy for the traumatic upbringing described by Machine and his attorneys during a sentencing hearing, she indicated that a strong punishment was necessary.
“I don’t think you’re a monster – I think you’re a human being,” she said. “I don’t discount those, but there also have to be consequences for what happened, and I have to look out for the well being of the community as I consider the appropriate sentence. I do think a substantial amount of time is warranted, not only for punishment’s sake, but avoiding danger to the community.”
Mack, born Christine Mackinday, appeared at the hearing and gave emotional testimony about previous abuse she suffered while in a relationship with Machine and the lingering effects of the assault.
“I’ve been punched and kicked, smothered and bitten, raped and tortured,” Mack said. “I was met with this more times than I can count, and I still cry every time I think about how it feels.”
Mack said her relationship with Machine started out passionately but became abusive after several months, with some of it taking place in the house owned by her mother, Erin Mackinday.
While Mack said “I love Jon, and I know in someway Jon loved me, too,” she indicated she wouldn’t feel safe if he is released from prison.
“I don’t know if my life will feel complete in 12 or 20 or 30 years, but I do know that when he gets out, he will kill me,” Mack said.
Mack’s mother, Erin Mackinday, countered a strategy by Machine’s defense lawyers to emphasize his abusive upbringing.
“I grew up abused,” Mackinday said. “There is nothing more precious to me than my children. I broke the cycle. For him to blame his parents. … You own what you buy, and he hurt my baby, and he needs to spend the rest of his life in jail.”
Thomas said he flew 20 hours to testify in the courtroom and noted a personal connection to a person assaulted by Machine in March 2010 in San Diego.
“I wanted to look you in the eye and let you know there are victims in this crime,” Thomas told the judge. “I’m not asking you to do anything that you don’t already know what to do. What I am concerned with how much time the defendant has wasted getting to this point and still to point to how it’s everyone else’s fault. It isn’t. He tried to kill me. Let’s get realistic. He has the background, and he’s done it before. He’s wasted everyone’s time, and I don’t think the minimums should apply.”
Three days before the verdict in March, defense attorney Jay Leiderman pleaded guilty to eight lesser domestic battery charges in an attempt to reduce punishment. Those included punching and injuring Mack, who gave emotional testimony about Machine’s abuse during their relationship and the night of the assault.
Machine turned down a pair of plea deals – one for 16 years to life and another for 18 to 40 years – in favor of a jury trial.
After declining to take the stand during the trial, Machine today told Cadish he would accept the outcome of sentencing because he had found peace through religion.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t seriously regret some of the things I did,” Machine said. “I was a lost and empty person. I hated the way that I think. I hated my impulses. It caused me to hate myself. I hate myself way more than any of these people do. I would look at myself in the mirror and smash my face. That’s how much I hated myself. It was the only thing I could do to prevent myself from killing myself.
“I gave my life to God. For the first time in my entire life, it’s brought me peace inside. It’s helped me to remove my self hate. It’s given me the ability to manage my depression and anxiety.
“I hated that this happened. I hate that I had to hurt the woman I loved. I hate that I had to ruin my career. But it’s been a blessing in my life. It’s made me grow into a real man. No matter what happens in this case or the future, I’m just glad that I finally have woken up and seen the truth. And I really believe I’m going to be able to be a good role model for the rest of my life.”
Machine broke into Mack’s house the night of Aug. 8, 2014, and discovered Mack and Thomas in the bedroom. Machine punched and choked Thomas before attacking Mack.
Thomas suffered a broken nose, dislocated shoulder, scrapes, bruises, and bite marks during the beating. He said Machine only stopped when he asked if the fighter’s “end game” was to kill or release him.
On a 911 call played in court, Mack was heard screaming and begging Machine to stop as he beat Thomas. After Thomas was let go, Machine started beating Mack, leaving her with broken teeth, a fractured rib and a severely ruptured liver. She escaped to a neighbor’s house after Machine said he was searching for a knife to kill her.
The verdict brought vindication for Mack, who underwent plastic surgery after the attack to correct the damage.
“Today was a great victory for myself, as well as victims of domestic violence everywhere,” Mack wrote on Twitter the day of the conviction. “Please continue to speak out, and stay strong!”
Machine claimed he had “nothing but joy inside” over the guilty charges because he’d found religion in prison. He hoped to one day meet with Mack to express his remorse over what happened.
“One day, when enough time has passed, and when your wounds are fully healed, I hope that you will write to me, or, perhaps, even visit me, so that I can apologize completely, and so that I can tell you about all that I have found in regard to God,” he wrote on Twitter.
Machine was under contract with Bellator at the time of the assault, but he was immediately released after news surfaced. He last fought in October 2013, losing via first-round submission to Ron Keslar.
Machine attempted suicide while awaiting trial. He was apprehended in a hotel room in Simi Valley, Calif., after going on the run. A hotel guest allegedly witnessed him getting physical with another woman and called the police.
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