Is Rams' Henley getting break from legal system?

August 09, 1994|By Mark Platte | Mark Platte,Los Angeles Times

IRVINE, Calif. -- With cornerback Darryl Henley having rejoined the Los Angeles Rams, federal authorities and attorneys for other defendants in Henley's cocaine-trafficking case are miffed that he is resuming his career while others accused of lesser roles in the crimes remain in prison.

"My client is not facing a minimum-mandatory 10-year sentence [as Henley is] and yet he's in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles," said Joan P. Freeman, a deputy federal public defender whose client is accused of extorting money from Henley and faces a maximum term of three to four years in prison. "I'm having some difficulty with this."

Of the eight defendants who have been charged in the combined cases of extortion and conspiracy to distribute cocaine, only Henley and two others -- one of them his uncle, Rex Henley -- were allowed to make bail when they were arraigned. Darryl Henley is accused of masterminding a drug ring that distributed large amounts of cocaine throughout the country.

Tracy Donaho, a former Rams cheerleader who was named in a federal indictment as a courier for the drugs, was among those given an opportunity to make bail but has since pleaded guilty and is expected to testify on behalf of the government against Henley and the others.

Another of the accused -- James Timothy Saenz, charged in the Henley extortion attempt -- spent 10 months in federal prison. He was released last week when bail was finally set at $10,000. The four others must wait until Jan. 10 for their trials to begin.

"There has been a real disparity in treatment in this case," said one defense attorney in the case who asked that his name not be used. "Darryl Henley is clearly a celebrity who has been in the limelight, and although nobody is saying it, his case has been handled differently."

Henley's attorney defended his client's treatment in the case, saying he poses no risk to others and is not likely to flee.

However, federal prosecutors argued strenuously last December before U.S. Magistrate Ronald W. Rose that Henley should be kept in custody until his trial because he might disappear and is a danger to society.

Last December, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Henley, Donaho and three others as participants in a conspiracy to transfer two shipments of cocaine from Henley's home in Brea to drop-off points in Atlanta and Memphis, using the 20-year-old Donaho as a courier.

Three men, including one of those charged in the trafficking conspiracy, also have been charged with threatening Henley's life in an attempt to extort $360,000 they say Henley owed them for cocaine they delivered to him. All seven are scheduled to be tried together.

Federal agents began investigating Henley in July 1993, after Donaho had paid cash for a one-way ticket from Ontario International Airport to Atlanta. Such a purchase is taken as an indication that a passenger may be carrying drugs, officials say.

When she landed, agents allegedly discovered 26 pounds of cocaine in a bag she had checked.

Donaho later said Henley had recruited her.

Two months later, Henley -- who was aware of the criminal investigation -- went to police himself to report an extortion attempt. Henley said he was threatened at gunpoint at the Rams' practice facility in Anaheim, Calif. He reported that three men had stolen his car and a 9mm semiautomatic handgun inside. One of the men who allegedly threatened him was found shot to death in nearby West Covina a few hours after the confrontation.

After investigating Henley's extortion claims and arresting RTC several suspects, authorities focused on his alleged involvement the cocaine ring.

Last December, after pleading innocent to the charges against him, Henley was released on $200,000 bail. His uncle, who was indicted last month as part of the cocaine trafficking conspiracy, had his bail set at $500,000.

Responding to the charges of disparate treatment for Darryl Henley, his attorney said the football player is an excellent candidate for release.

"I don't know anything about the prior records about anybody else, but Darryl Henley has never been in trouble in all his life," Roger Cossack said.

"He has been active in charity work, and for the past 10 months has been terrific in terms of making court appearances and keeping in touch with pretrial services."

A condition of Darryl Henley's bail is that he not travel outside the Central District of California, which

includes seven Southern California counties .

Cossack said he will ask for a modification of the bail conditions, allowing Henley to travel with the team.

"I can't see anyone saying that this guy is a flight risk," Cossack said. "He'll be surrounded by 100 people, and millions will be watching him on television every Sunday. It's hard for me to think that the court would not allow Darryl Henley to make a living."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Deirdre Z. Eliot, one of two federal prosecutors handling the Henley case, declined to comment.

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