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DA discusses challenges of prosecuting ‘ticking time bomb’ War Machine in Christy Mack assault case

Clark County (Nev.) District Attorney Steven Wolfson believes the 36-years-to-life sentence for War Machine was just.

The harrowing, tragic saga of War Machine and Christy Mack finally came to an end Monday.

War Machine, the former MMA fighter born as Jonathan Koppenhaver, was sentenced to 36 years to life in prison on 29 different counts, ranging from sexual assault to kidnapping, by a Clark County (Nev.) District Court judge. Mack, his ex-girlfriend, was the victim.

The charges stemmed from a 2014 crime when Koppenhaver broke into Mack’s home and attacked her and her male friend, Corey Thomas. Mack was left with some teeth knocked out, a fractured eye socket, a broken rib and ruptured liver. The former porn actress, whose real name is Christine Mackinday, was present for the sentencing Monday in Las Vegas and told the judge that she still believes Koppenhaver will kill her when he gets out of prison.

MMA Fighter Jonathan Koppenhaver aka War Machine Booking Photo
War Machine fought for the UFC and Bellator in his MMA career.
Photo by Simi Valley Police Department via Getty Images

Koppenhaver, 35, will be 71 years old before he is eligible for parole. For Clark County District Attorney Steven Wolfson, it was a just end to a terrible story.

“We’re pleased with the result, because this was a long, arduous process, especially for the victims,” Wolfson told MMA Fighting. “He put up a pretty vigorous defense. But the bottom line is we have a pretty violent guy with a violent past that committed a horrific act against two people. And because of all that, the judge saw fit to give him a stiff sentence and we’re pleased about it."

The case was challenging, Wolfson said, for a number of reasons. It was a high-profile, brutal case. And one in which the victim’s past career in pornographic films and at-times violent relationship with Koppenhaver was brought up repeatedly to discredit her.

“Las Vegas, although we’re Sin City, we’re still a relatively conservative community,” Wolfson said. “And when you look at the composition of a typical jury, a lot of jurors are senior citizens, retired people and people that wouldn't necessarily accept and agree and appreciate Christy Mack’s colorful background. That’s challenge number one.”

Wolfson and Clark County Deputy District Attorney Jacqueline Bluth, the case’s primary prosecutor, are among the attorneys who took My Entertainment’s Sin City Justice show behind the scenes of the War Machine trial. The premiere episode, entitled “Rage Against the Machine” and focusing on the case, will air Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.

Mack’s previous work has nothing to do with domestic abuse and the savage crimes perpetrated by Koppenhaver, a former UFC and Bellator fighter. But that didn’t stop the defense from bringing it up and putting the victim on trial. Wolfson said that was something the prosecution knew would happen from the beginning.

“Her past was going to come out no matter what,” Wolfson said. “And we didn’t shy away from it. We owned it. We brought it out during the direct examination, during the opening statements. We were not ashamed that Christy Mack had that kind of lifestyle.

“I don’t care who you are, what kind of past you’ve got, what kind of lifestyle you lead, especially a female in no way shape or form deserves to be beaten to a pulp like she was.”

It has been three years since the incident, but Wolfson still cannot reconcile the jarring evidence — photos of Mack’s body and face after the attack. The DA remains outraged that a trained mixed martial arts fighter was capable of doing that to a former girlfriend.

“This was not a fight in the ring,” Wolfson said. “This was an attack on a girlfriend and her friend. He’s got to be responsible for his actions. He should have recognized that his hands are akin to deadly weapons. I mean, she almost died. I’m not a doctor. I don’t know that she would have died. Have you seen these pictures? They’re horrific, they’re brutal. And another couple of minutes and a few more punches and she very well could have died and this would have been a murder case.”

War Machine’s defense, led by attorney Jay Lieberman, focused on the defendant’s past issues, including a troubled youth as well as steroid and hard drug use. The presumption that Koppenhaver has traumatic brain injury from his time in MMA was also brought up.

Wolfson acknowledges some of those things as legitimate issues. But judge Elissa Cadish said Monday that it doesn’t absolve Koppenhaver from facing consequences as an adult for his violent actions. War Machine had three prior felony convictions on violent charges and a misdemeanor for domestic abuse on his record already.

This was not a new development, Wolfson said, and if he was a first-time offender he likely would not have gotten such a long sentence. The fear of him committing further crimes was a major cause for the sentence, Cadish said.

“He’s a walking time bomb,” Wolfson said. “After spending two years in custody, maybe he’s mellowed out a little. But Christy Mack still fears for her life. And he’ll be 71 years old when he comes up for parole. I have to think for the next 36 years, he’s gonna mellow out. Most people do. Most seniors are not capable nor desirous of doing the same things they would do in their 30s. But I’d be afraid of him on the streets right now and for a long time.”

Cadish said she felt like Koppenhaver was not a “monster,” but a human being with good points and bad points, who still must face the consequences of his actions. Koppenhaver says he has found God since being in prison and has shown remorse. He was clear about that Monday at sentencing, where he also said he should be “in the dirt right now” next to former NFL star and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez, who committed suicide earlier this year. Koppenhaver attempted suicide in 2015.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t seriously regret all those things that I did,” Koppenhaver said. “I was a very, very lost, very empty person. And to top it off, something’s not right with my head. Plain and simple. I’ve known that a long time and I’ve hated it. I’ve hated the way that I think. I’ve hated my impulses. Half the time, I don’t know why I do some the things I do. And some of the times I do things and I don’t even feel like I did them until it’s already done.”

The prosecution offered Koppenhaver a deal of 16 years to life during the trial and it was rejected. Bluth said at sentencing that when she told Mack about the possible agreement Mack said she felt then that she only had another 16 years to live. The victim discussed her pain and complications she has faced over the last three years Monday.

Wolfson praised Mack for sticking through the trial, coming to sentencing and not having fear of potential repercussions.

“Christy is a strong woman who rose to the occasion, told the truth, was not afraid of her past,” Wolfson said. “She’s a poster child for a person who should come forward and advocate against domestic violence. Because it’s just unacceptable. If any of your [readers] are currently in an abusive relationship, I’d encourage them to reach out, whether it to be to family, friends, the police, women’s shelters. There is help out there. I would encourage people to report the abuse and be brave and be courageous like Christy Mack was.”

Mack’s career in pornography, which she has since retired from, was somewhat of an obstacle for the prosecution. It was also an issue for her and her continued presence in the spotlight drew criticism from craven trolls on social media.

“She was in the courtroom yesterday and she showed a lot of courage throughout this ordeal, because it’s not easy to come forward knowing that the world is going to be scrutinizing your behavior, your past, your lifestyle,” Mack said. “And to stick with it two years and show up to sentencing, she’s a remarkable woman and she should be an example for other victims of domestic violence. Not just women — anybody. There’s help out there.”

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