Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This Whole Dave Bliss Thing

Hey y'all. It's TC. If you liked the Dave Bliss segment from today's show or would just like to know more about the whole episode, here is the email I sent to Bob with all the research that went into the segment:
So the quick version is this: Carlton Dotson murdered Patrick Dennehey. Dave Bliss had been paying Dennehey's tuition illegally, so when the NCAA investigated the whole scene, Bliss told players to tell the investigators that Dennehey dealt drugs, in order to explain away the unspoken for income.

Dotson and Dennehey were roommates and friends who both played for Baylor. In June of 2003, Dotson and Dennehey told assistant coach Abar Rouse and some of their friends, including Daniel Okopnyi, that they had been threatened by an associate of their Harvey Thomas, another Baylor basketball player. They had felt sufficiently threatened that they purchased two pistols and a rifle.

That brings us to the first of two questions of major interest to which I haven't found satisfactory answers. What had they done to get crossways with Thomas?

The only thing I've found that approaches answering this is a lawsuit filed against Baylor by Dennehey's father. In the lawsuit, it says:

Patrick decided that it would be up to him to expose the improprieties at the school in order to stop what was going on. Shortly after making that decision, Patrick became the target of violent threats against his person and soon became fearful for his life... Despite his best efforts, Patrick's fears became reality when on or about June 16, 2003, when he was lured to his death by another Baylor basketball player and ultimately silenced forever.

So this seems to be saying that Dennehey felt afraid because he was about to expose the wrongdoing going on at Baylor, the stuff that would come out after his death. It also seems to say that this was a conflict of the team--including Dotson and Thomas--against Dennehey. Every other report of the events says it was Dennehey and Dotson who were together in having a conflict with Thomas. So if every other report available is to be believed, then the lawsuit has the elements of the conflict all out of order.

Also troubling about the suit is the man filing it. Dennehey II (the murdered player, just to keep it clear) did not have a relationship Dennehey, Sr, who filed the suit. Dennehey, Sr. had not seen his son since Dennehey II was two years old, and the father figure present at Dotson's sentencing and who is often quoted at the heart of stories is Dennehey's stepfather Brian Brabazon. The whole suit is a pretty transparent money grab where Dennehey, Sr. wouldn't seem to mind bending facts to get money out of this whole mess.

Also, the suit was dismissed, so going off something in the filing of a dismissed suit seems like an iffy foundation. This whole 'Dennehey was trying to expose wrongdoing, and that's why he was being threatened' thread of reasoning is literally the only speculation I have seen as to the origin of the conflict with Thomas, but the only place I have seen this thread is in a bunk lawsuit. So there is not a good reason on the public record for why Thomas threatened Dennehey and Dotson.

On the 10th of June, Dennehey and Dotson went to a farm north of Waco to practice using the weapons. The farm was owned by Darron Cox, who had sold Dotson a puppy earlier in the year. That's primarily how we know that they had purchased the weapons and why: they told Cox the situation and showed him the guns, and Cox told this to authorities after the murder.

On the 14th of June, Dennehey went missing. There were several events that tipped everyone off. For one, Dennehey had told Okopnyi that he and Dotson would be at a party on the 15th, and they didn't show up. Also, Brabazon thought it odd and out of character that Dennehey did not call him on Father's Day. Dennehey had a long-term girlfriend who he talked to regularly who had not heard from him since the 11th. Dennehey's roommate was out of town from the 11th to the 16th, and when he returned to their living space, he found Dennehey's dogs had not been fed in days. Then on the 25th, Dennehey's Chevy Tahoe was found in a Virginia Beach parking lot with the plates removed (Dotson is from Maryland, and it would be revealed later that he had returned home after the shooting).

On the 23rd, the Waco police file an affidavit as part of the case. In part of the affidavit, it is revealed that an informant in Delaware says that Dotson told a cousin that he and Dennehey had gotten into an argument while practicing shooting and that he, Dotson, had shot and killed Dennehey.

And that's the second big question that I don't have a good answer for: What was the subject of the argument? What could they possibly be talking about that would cause someone to shoot their friend?

Here is the version of events presented by Dotson in a USA Today article:

Dotson told agents that he thought people were trying to kill him because "he is Jesus, the son of God."
He told FBI agents that on June 11, Dennehy pointed a gun at him after the pair went to gravel pits for target practice. When Dennehy's gun jammed, Dotson said "Father, please forgive me," and shot his friend. He then packed his belongings, called a relative to wire him money and drove home to Maryland, throwing the gun in a lake along the way.
The article goes on to point out that this story doesn't jive with the autopsy. Dennehey was shot twice, once above his right ear and once in the back of the head. Seems that if someone were pointing a gun at you, it'd be real tough to shoot them in the back of the head. So only two people were there for the argument and could answer our question. One is dead and the other doesn't seem too keen on telling the truth (which is odd, because he plead guilty without any promises from the prosecution. He was apparently ready to just say he did it and accept his sentence, so why lie about any of it? From a legal standpoint, it's the same whether you tell the truth or you lie, so why lie?)
And the whole "I believe I'm Jesus" thing is an interesting angle. Dotson put forth this story about how he was hearing voices that told him to do things and that he believed he was the son of God. In October 2004, he was declared incompetent to stand trial and sent to a mental hospital. He was reevaluated in February, declared able to stand trial and sent back to jail. The psychiatrist who declared him fit called the claims of voices "suspect."
Dotson was arrested in Maryland on July 21st. He gave the FBI information on where to find Dennehey, and his body was discovered on July 25, 2003. His trial was set for June 13, 2005, but five days before, he unequivocally admitted he had committed the crime and entered a guilty plea. I have two friends in law school (one is actually at Baylor, which is a funny coincidence), and I consulted with them. They informed me that this is a very, very odd way for a trial to go down. In the vast majority of guilty pleas, the defendant makes a deal with the prosecution. It usually makes sense: the defendant gets punished less for something they did wrong, and the prosecution gets to put it down as a conviction. But apparently Dotson didn't even try for a promise of a lesser sentence. I don't see that stated explicitly in any articles, but that's the impression that I get. Dotson received 35 years with the possibility of parole about halfway through. Dennehey's mother and stepfather promise to be at any parole proceedings to do their darndest to ensure they don't go well for Dotson.
Which wraps up that side of things and bring us to Dave Bliss. Bliss had originally brought Dennehey in on a scholarship but found himself wanting to give the scholarship to another player after a few semesters, so he told Dennehey he would be taking away the scholarship but that Bliss would cover any tuition not covered by financial aid. That amounted to $7,000 to Dennehey, but in the subsequent investigation, it was revealed Bliss did this sort of thing regularly, totaling $40,000 (some places report that Bliss gave Dennehey $40,000. This is misguided.)

Bliss realized that as more attention would be drawn to Dennehey, the NCAA would probably find out that Dennehey had more money than was accounted for, and as part of trying to piece together what happened look for the source of that money. So to explain the money away, he told assistant coaches and some of the players to just create the impression that Dennehey dealt drugs, explaining why he would have off-the-books income.
When one of those assistants, Abar Rouse initially showed reluctance to fall in line with the Dennehey dealing drugs fabrication, Bliss called him in for a meeting and presented him with a copy of his coaching contract with the clause saying the head coach had full authority to remove assistant coaches without cause highlighted. At this point, Rouse had been on the job for two and a half months. After that meeting, Rouse began taping the conversations he had with Bliss.

Here are some excerpts from the transcript of those tapes:

"I think the thing we want to do — and you think about this — if there's a way we can create the perception that Pat (Patrick Dennehy) may have been a dealer. Even if we had to kind of make some things look a little better than they are, that can save us."

"All they've got to remember is they can tell the story, 'We went up there and everything. And all of a sudden, he walked out with that tray, and it had everything on it that you can imagine. And I knew something different was up. And then he pulled out his roll of bills. And when he pulled out that roll of bills, it scared us and we never went back.' "

(in a conversation also involving an unidentified player): "Take your time and try to piece some things together. Just remember that anything you can remember is gonna help Baylor. We can get out of this. And, see, if Dotson hadn't killed Dennehy, we wouldn't be in this jam. So we don't deserve to be in this jam. The reason we're in this jam is because of a dead guy and a guy that murdered him, and that isn't fair for you and me and Abar to be in this jam, because we didn't do anything. It's not like we created this situation. We're the victims."

Once the investigation really got going, it was also revealed that there was marijuana and alcohol abuse going on with Bliss either not reporting failed tests orensuring through improper means that players would not fail the tests (I've seen both reported and don't know which was accurate).

Bliss has a history of running a dirty program. I think a lot of that is a separate matter to the Dennehey thing--Dennehey did not get shot because players were being paid under the table--but it's an interesting thing on the periphery of the story. Bliss started out as an assistant to Bob Knight at Army, which is more interesting just for trivia, since Bill Parcells and Mike Krzyzewski also got their start there (Parcells as a coach and Krzyzewski as a player). Bliss went from there to an uneventful stint as head coach at OU. Then in 1980, he took over as head coach for SMU. While there, players--most notably John Concack, who was on the 1984 US Olympic Gold Metal team and was the 5th pick in 1985--received payments from boosters. Concack was one of the primary sources in the investigation, and he was faily emphatic that Bliss knew what was going on. This all comes from an NCAA memo that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram dug up when the Dennehey thing broke (The Star-Telegram really killed it throughout the whole investigation). The NCAA had just hit the football program with the death penalty, so they decided not to pursue the SMU basketball thing any further. However, Bliss moved on not long after that, and the violations are now sort of accepted as the reason.

The last we heard from Bliss was when he came to a church in Ovilla, which is a southern suburb of Dallas, to talk about how bad he's messed up. I think that's when Norm interviewed him. He has had a few coaching jobs outside of college basketball, nothing of particular note or substance.

The last interesting bit is the follow-up on Abar Rouse. ESPN did a feature on him in 2008, 5 years after the thing. At that time, he had not had a coaching job after Baylor, worked in a plant manufacturing airplane parts and lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Witchita, Texas. Basically, his life sucks. It's mentioned that in the feature that Krzyzewski went on Outside The Lines and said, "If one of my assistants would tape every one of my conversations with me not knowing it, there's no way he would be on my staff." Everyone seems to agree with him at this point.

Some other trivia odds and ends:
  • MC Hammer spoke at Dennehey's funeral
  • Dotson had an estranged wife at the time of the murder, when Dotson was 21
  • Rouse sued his lawyer for allegedly turning over the tapes to the Star-Telegram, which made his narc'ing public

Here are some articles and features related to the story, some of which have been used to put together this email:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey TC, it's some P1 named Rich. If it were six years ago, I'd leave the following comment:

Hey TC, it's P1 Rich logging in from my future girlfriend's computer.I don't know who you are, because you don't work at the Ticket yet, but I'm very interested in this story, because it's still relatively new. But if I hear about it in six years on the Ticket, then I'll probably change the station, because it will have lost its novelty by then.