By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
His excuse for the terrible lapse in judgment is flimsy: a low blood sugar problem he's suffered with for years. "I'd been a night trusty at the jail," he says, "and worked right up until the time they released me. So, I hadn't had any sleep. On the way home, I convinced myself that a few beers might help me stay awake."
He posted a $3,000 bail bond and was set free, pending trial.
To compound his problems, Dent ignored the provision that required him to inform his Texas parole officer of his latest arrest. He continued to dismiss appearance demands of the Brazos County judicial system, and he put Oklahoma City in his rearview mirror as quickly as possible, moving to Hot Springs, Arkansas, as warrants again began flying.
His life had become a traveling paradox as his professional career continued to bloom even as his personal life became stormier by the day. The Undefeated was nearing the 25,000-copy sales figure and ESPN-TV had begun filming the movie version of The Junction Boys. Work on the Nagurski book was going well despite myriad distractions, and ESPN.com had hired him to write a weekly online column.
Dent, however, says he would have exchanged it all for a few more years of good health for his 84-year-old father. Suffering from congestive heart failure, the elder Dent had only a short time to live.
"That," his son says, "is why I went to Arkansas. There've been all these stories about me being on the run. The fact is, it was very important for me to be able to spend some time with my dad before he passed away. And, despite the fact it added to my legal troubles, I'm glad I did it. Instead of being in jail when he died, I was there to help with funeral arrangements, to give the eulogy at his service and to help my mother through some rough days."
Dent's explanation earned him little sympathy from those convinced he was merely running from the inevitable. After he didn't show up for one scheduled Arkansas court appearance, Garland County deputy prosecuting attorney Brent Miller lashed out: "He ought to be man enough to own up to what he's done, but I guess he's not," Miller told The Bryan-College Station Eagle. "He needs to get his comeuppance."
Even Dent's attorney, Q. Byrum Hurst, admitted at one point that he had no idea where his client was.
Trouble, meanwhile, was never far away. There would soon be another arrest, this time in Hot Springs on the Texas warrant. A staggering $1 million bail was set while officials awaited a hearing to determine if Dent would be extradited. After he'd been in jail for 12 days, however, the bail was reduced to $5,000. He wrote another check and was released.
Two weeks later, his father died. Soon after, Dent again jumped bail and disappeared.
The end of the line came last June in Las Vegas, where he had moved in an effort to put off his legal woes until he could complete his book on Nagurski and the Bears. "At that point, reality had begun to set in," he says, "and I'd already begun talking with my lawyer about turning myself in. But I wanted to complete the book first."
Driving back to his apartment late one night, he was involved in a minor accident. Police immediately determined he was drunk and, following a routine check, learned of the lengthy list of outstanding warrants. Dent's wayward travels finally had come to an end.
"Our mother was in the hospital with heart problems at the time," remembers sister Janice Dent, "and Jim had been phoning to check on her every day." When the calls suddenly stopped, she feared that he might have been arrested and was again in jail.
On a recent evening following a jail visit to her younger brother, Janice said she's begun to see a different person. "I think he's now aware that he's got to make the decision to change a lot of things about his life," she says.
MADD official Thurmond says her office had been closely following the Dent case for at least 18 months and had a confidential "tipster" who would occasionally contact her about his whereabouts. "Anytime I would get new information," she says, "I would pass it along to [Brazos County Assistant District Attorney] Jay Granberry."
How does the five-year MADD veteran view Dent's future? "Time will tell," she says. "You either come out of prison a much better person or a much worse person."
In the past five months, as he's called a claustrophobic 10-by-30-foot cinder-block jail space home, Dent has come to view that final arrest as "a blessing." "I know I was eventually going to hurt someone or hurt myself," he reflects. "I'm so glad I can look back and say that never happened."
For long days and nights in jail cells in Las Vegas, Hot Springs, then Bryan, he had continued to blame others--this time what he perceived as a vengeful legal system--for his situation. Denial, he calls it. Instead, it was Harry James Dent stubbornness, something he'd elevated to an art form over the course of his adult life.