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Friday, January 3, 1997

Still no determination in Cowboys investigation

 

By Mark Kram / Knight-Ridder Newspapers (Jan. 3, 1997)

IRVING, Texas (KRT) - To satisfy his own considerable curiosity, Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Mark Tuinei approached fellow lineman Erik Williams, looked him in the eye, and asked, "What happened?"

He wanted to hear it from Williams himself, if it was true what a 23-year-old woman from the Dallas suburb of Mesquite had told police Monday: that Williams and an unidentified man sexually assaulted her the previous evening at Williams's North Dallas home while Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin held a gun to her head.

"Erik is part of our unit - the offensive line," Tuinei said. "Yeah, I was curious."

And?

"I won't say what he said," Tuinei said. "I just feel for those guys."

He added: "I would not want to comment on what I think. What matters is what the law thinks."

The law still is pondering the case - if indeed there is one. Though it had been widely reported that police were planning to interview the Cowboys players Thursday, and were even prepared to press charges against one or both, Dallas police spokesman Ed Spencer said it would be "days . . . if not weeks before any determination is made if there is a criminal case to be filed."

Consequently, it appears that both players will be in uniform when the defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys face the Carolina Panthers in a NFC divisional playoff game Sunday in Charlotte, N.C.

What exactly occurred on Sunday evening inside the gated subdivision where Williams lives is still unclear. Police described the accuser as bruised, distraught and fearful when she appeared at Parkland Memorial Hospital for a rape examination on Monday. But Williams and the attorneys for Irvin stepped forward Thursday to question the accusations.

Williams previously had no comment, but the Philadelphia native Thursday gave a brief statement to the media.

"I've been falsely accused of something that I didn't do and I'm looking forward to the truth to come out as soon as possible," he said. "I'm not a bad person. I realize the responsibilities and privileges that it takes to be a Dallas Cowboy."

Williams previously was accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old topless dancer in his home in 1995. The case was dropped due to insufficient evidence when the woman reached a civil settlement with Williams and asked authorities not to prosecute.

Members of the legal team representing Irvin say their client has an air-tight alibi. Attorney and state Sen. Royce West told CBS-TV's "Good Morning America" Thursday that he can produce the security guard stationed at the subdivision gatehouse who "will state that Mr. Michael Irvin never went" to see Williams Sunday night. Instead - according to another of his attorneys - he spent Sunday night at the Cowboys Sports Cafe, a sports bar just blocks from Cowboy headquarters at Valley Ranch. A manager there said the establishment had "absolutely no comment."

Irvin is in the sixth month of a four-year probation for felony cocaine possession and could faced up to 20 years in prison if that probation is revoked.

While a throng of reporters and camera crews assembled outside their locker room Thursday, the Cowboys attempted to focus on their upcoming game against Carolina. The locker room was closed to the media, and only a handful of players came to the lecture hall at Valley Ranch to discuss the latest off-field problems facing the team. Choosing their words carefully, Tuinei and linebacker Darrin Smith agreed that the team appears to have set aside the controversy.

"We are upbeat," Tuinei said. "Everyone seems to be focused on the job at hand."

Even Williams?

"His game preparation is the same," Tuinei said. "He has a tough job on Sunday."

Knowing Williams and Irvin as well as he does, did the allegations come as shock to him?

"Did they shock me?" Tuinei repeated. "Yeah, I just want to wait and see what happens. Until the whole story unfolds."

Has it been difficult to focus?

"Not for myself," Tuinei said. "This is the playoffs."

Smith concurred.

"Winning this game Sunday is all I can think about - not these distractions," said Smith, who added that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had addressed the team.

"He just told us that reporters would be around this week," Smith said. "That, and we need to just concentrate on football."

Coach Barry Switzer added: "Jerry just told them to beat Carolina."

With his jaw jutting out fiercely, Switzer has once again found himself in the line of intense media fire. He ran a scandal-ridden program as a college coach at Oklahoma and he has done the same in Dallas.

In just this year alone: Irvin pleaded no contest to drug charges and was subsequently suspended by the NFL for five games; former receiver Cory Fleming was suspended by the NFL for violating the league drug policy during the 1995 season; defensive end Shante Carver was suspended by the league for the first six games of the season - again, drugs; and defensive tackle Leon Lett last month was suspended by the NFL for one year for violating the league drug policy a second time.

Is Switzer somehow responsible?

He says no.

"We all know what is right and what is wrong," Switzer said. "We all make our own choices. We are adults."

Veteran defensive tackle Tony Casillas agreed. When asked if Switzer bears some responsibility for the events that have surrounded the team, Casillas replied, "He is responsible for preparing us to play this Sunday, and he is doing a good job of it."

Casillas then lashed out at the media.

He said: "If you guys want to be tabloid (reporters) and (work for) the National Enquirer - if you want to use innocent people who have nothing to do with the situation - then I guess you are entitled to do that."

Was Casillas saying then that he thought Williams and/or Irvin was innocent?

"I have no idea," he said flatly.

Neither did guard Nate Newton. Announcing that he would answer "football questions - and football questions only," Newton would not be drawn into the controversy when a reporter asked him how he thought Williams was "handling the situation."

"What situation?" Williams asked.

"This situation," the reporter replied.

Newton paused and said: "He does real well against the zone blitz."

(c) 1997, Philadelphia Daily News.

Visit Philadelphia Online, the World Wide Web site of the Philadelphia Daily News, at http://www.phillynews.com/

Distributed by Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


All content copyright 1996, AP, KRT, The Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine

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