ORANJESTAD, Aruba - Sidney Ponson emerged from the Noord police station wearing dark shorts, a white T-shirt, sunglasses and sandals, and walked to his car across a gravel parking lot baking in tropical sunshine.
The Orioles pitcher was released at midday yesterday after being detained for 11 days while police investigated his role in a Christmas Day beach fight, during which he allegedly punched a judge.
He must return to Aruba for a sentencing trial in March, said Mary Ann Croes, spokeswoman for the public prosecutor's office. Ponson faces three charges under the Dutch legal system used in Aruba: violence in public directed against other persons, attempted assault and battery and premeditated assault and battery.
"We'll talk later. Not right now," Ponson told reporters yesterday before driving away from the police station with his agent, Barry Praver.
Ponson, 28, spent last night at his home here and plans to fly to the United States today, Praver said. The Aruban right-hander recently purchased an offseason home in South Florida.
Chris Lejuez, Ponson's attorney, said he was "very optimistic" Ponson's sentence wouldn't include more time in jail.
"I can't say so with 100 percent certainty because legally [jail] is possible, but not realistically," Lejuez said. "If I had to put my money on it, [no jail] is where it would go."
Ponson's trial likely will last just a few hours in March, as opposed to high-profile American trials that can go on for weeks. The prosecutor who investigated the fight will offer evidence and ask for a specific sentence. Lejuez will defend Ponson. A judge will decide the sentence.
Dutch law precludes plea bargaining, but "sometimes we come a little closer to it than other times, and I hope we can do so in this case so there are no surprises," Lejuez said.
The prosecutor, one of several in the office, was unavailable to comment yesterday.
Lejuez downplayed the importance of the case, which has made headlines in Aruba.
"This is not a serious case. If Sidney Ponson wasn't involved, no one would have known about it," Lejuez said. "It has become known because of Sidney, but the incident was relatively insignificant compared to other legal matters I take up. This [beach fight] is a thing that happens many times."
Croes, the prosecutor's spokeswoman, wouldn't address Lejuez's depiction of the case as "relatively insignificant."
"If it's not a serious case, that will be reflected in what the prosecutor asks for at trial," Croes said.
Although the trial will occur during spring training, it likely won't impact Ponson's preparation for the 2005 season.
Often criticized for not being fit, Ponson looked relatively trim yesterday as he left jail.
"He really looked thin. I don't think he ate much in there," said Chu Halabi, the Orioles' Aruban scout, who signed Ponson, still counsels him and was at Noord for his release yesterday.
Halabi said Ponson had been running and swimming before the incident that led to his detainment.
Ponson originally was held at a jail closer to the San Nicolas beach where the fight occurred. He was transferred to Noord last week.
Dutch law allows prosecutors to hold suspects without charging them, but only for so long. Ponson had to be released no later than this morning.
Two other detainees from the case, who escaped from jail last week and were caught with about $20,000, drugs, jewelry, cell phones and a police scanner, are still behind bars.
"They are now facing other charges," Croes said.
Ponson's release was finalized yesterday morning in a private hearing at Aruba's main courthouse.
Police drove Ponson to the hearing. His mother, sister, other family members, friends and reporters came to the courthouse to see him, although they were barred from the hearing.
Ponson was led inside and then back out a half hour later, never speaking. He was driven back to Noord and released an hour later.