In Baylor tragedy, corrupt program should share in the guilt

June 17, 2005|By LAURA VECSEY

A DEAD MAN, left lying in a field, shot twice: That's where life ended two years ago for Patrick Dennehy, the former Baylor University basketball player whose murder was the tragic centerpiece of the worst college sports scandal in history.

And now this: a convicted man, Carlton Eric Dotson, sentenced Wednesday in Waco, Texas, to 35 years in prison after pleading guilty to murder without a plea bargain, without a trial.

This is the "resolution" for Dotson, from Hurlock, Md., who went to Waco to play basketball and instead ran into trouble, or became troubled, and now must pay for the death of his friend, his teammate. At the sentencing, Dennehy's stepfather railed in anguish and anger. He implored Dotson to remember Dennehy's face and vowed to make sure Dotson serves all 35 years of his sentence.

Yesterday, Dotson's mother, Gilreatha Stoltzfus, was driving back from Texas to her home in Pennsylvania. She spoke on her cell phone, able for the first time to begin telling her family's side of this nightmare.

"It's not very good for a mother to say, but my son had a problem, a medical problem, and he cried out for help and the system turned him down, the system being the university," she said.

"It's right there in black and white, the coach did this and did that. A lot of things were swept under the rug the last two years. If they did their job even 50 percent, neither one of these boys would have been in that place."

When the tragedy began, the Dennehy family and the Dotson family were locked together in the whirlpool of confusion and deceit, as details about Baylor's corrupt basketball program trickled out.

The young men had been together on June 11 or 12, 2003, then Dotson left for Virginia Beach and Maryland in Dennehy's vehicle. By August, Dotson had told an FBI agent where to look for Dennehy's body. Dotson was being held in a Kent County jail cell before he was extradited to Texas.

During that time, Baylor's former coach, Dave Bliss, attempted to smear Dennehy's reputation, encouraging other Baylor players to lie and say Dennehy was a drug dealer.

Also, it was revealed that Dotson's increasingly erratic behavior in the months before the murder had prompted the Baylor coaching staff to get him psychological help.

That summer, news about what happened to Dotson and Dennehy advanced. The two young men had bought guns, feeling threatened and vowing to protect themselves - and each other. Then something happened in a field near Waco. Dotson told authorities he shot Dennehy after Dennehy pointed a gun at him.

Likewise, details about the payments and promises and smear tactics employed by Bliss, and Baylor's lack of institutional control, were made public.

It's little wonder, then, that Dotson's family cannot separate what happened between Carlton and Patrick from the mess that was the Baylor basketball program.

"I think two people got the raw end of the deal, and that's Dennehy and Carlton. One has left this Earth, and another has lost his hopes and goals, and his dreams have also been deceased," Gilreatha Stoltzfus said.

"Baylor University was supposed to mold these kids into professional people, and now they're both gone."

Dotson is alive, but still very much gone. That's what Florida attorney Grady Irvin Jr. said yesterday.

Irvin had represented Dotson briefly but could not carry out the case from his Florida office, only to have terrible second thoughts now about the entire case, which was turned over to a court-appointed attorney.

"Ever been to jail? Ever visited? Well, what is 35 years? For Carlton Dotson, that's a life sentence. He won't make it. He is not a murderer. He was crying out for help. They were playing with guns. There's no doubt there was drug use in that program, and he got no benefit from being in that environment," Irvin said, adding:

"Now they've sentenced him to death. He's already in his grave. He's just walking around in his grave for a little while."

That's why this is no kind of resolution, because prison for Dotson undoes nothing. It doesn't diminish Dennehy's family's pain.

Punishment, justice, closure. They seem like empty words here.

Amid all the tragedy and violence and waste of human life that takes place, minute by bloody minute on this spinning planet, this case still ranks as one to make your heart sink, your head swirl, your stomach turn.

How did this happen?

Why?

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