By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The experts had been impressed with Coyle's appellate brief. But in person, Porrata says, Coyle seemed like a "burned-out old fart." They found out a female associate had written the appeal but was no longer on the case.
A former Los Angeles narcotics officer, Porrata gained her expertise from 10 years of interviewing GHB addicts and rape victims. She has trained hundreds of law enforcement officers on recognizing and investigating GHB cases. Retired, she now is on the board and president of Project GHB, an effort to educate users and law enforcement about the symptoms and dangers of the drug.
From Minneapolis, Zvocek and her husband, Dr. Steven Smith, have published and testified extensively about GHB; their papers have appeared in prestigious publications such as The New England Journal of Medicine. A medical anthropologist, Zvocek focuses on research; Smith, an emergency room physician, comes at it from a clinical point of view.
Dowdy struck Zvocek as direct and straightforward. "She said what she remembered, what she knew," Zvocek says. "It seemed very clear and honest. It would be easy for people in that situation to learn about it and try to come up with symptoms."
But Zvocek was shocked when she asked Coyle what witnesses were going to say and he suggested she find and interview them.
Worried that an innocent person was being railroaded, Porrata and Zvocek began talking to witnesses, crafting questions for Coyle to ask, identifying weak areas in the prosecution's case. Coyle seemed "indifferent," Zvocek says.
Zvocek encouraged Coyle to hire the toxicologist who had tested Dowdy's blood to testify about his research, which included a test showing that in 75 percent of samples, GHB was gone within three to four hours. Coyle said he cost too much, so he wanted Zvocek to testify about that, though it wasn't her area of expertise. The prosecution hired him, Zvocek says, and distorted his research results.
Then a bombshell dropped. A few days before Dowdy's third trial began on March 29, 2004, an Oklahoma City defense attorney contacted Coyle to tell him about two female lawyers who claimed they had been drugged and sexually assaulted at the Crosswinds in late 1999.
This was explosive information. Prosecutors and the bartender had maintained that the club had no problems with GHB.
Porrata called one of the women and found her story believable. The woman claimed that both had been drugged at the Crosswinds on December 31, 1998, five months before Dowdy's accident. They'd awoken in separate rooms in a stranger's house. Both had been raped but never reported the attacks to police. One woman obtained a picture of her assailant, who bore a resemblance to a sketch of the man Dowdy remembered, drawn by a police artist several years earlier.
Coyle spoke to one woman for only four minutes and brushed her off as "flaky." Porrata was furious. (Dowdy didn't find this out until a year later. Coyle did not return repeated phone calls.)
If Coyle was casual and unprepared, prosecutors Smotherman and Miller were focused and aggressive, prepping their witnesses to testify.
The Third Trial
Porrata remembers the collective gasp in the courtroom as former police officer Kevin Tucker, who had taken Hillin to detox, testified.
Coyle asked Tucker what Hillin had told him about Dowdy that night.
"She said she left with a man," Tucker said.
For the first time, a witness had corroborated what Dowdy had contended all along. But Smotherman leaped up and shrieked, "Objection!" When Coyle tried to pursue it, Caswell cut him off and forced him to move on.
For the first time, Oscar Ramirez appeared in court. He had talked to the prosecutors earlier but was disturbed by their attitude. "To me, they were like, 'This is an officer's son; we're going to prosecute her regardless,'" Ramirez says. "They said they didn't believe her story about being drugged."
Ramirez testified that Dowdy was wearing no panties when he pulled her from the wreck. Coyle tried to use the absence of Dowdy's underwear plus details pulled from Dowdy's medical records to show she was sexually assaulted.
The prosecution countered with a nurse who said she'd looked at Dowdy's private parts while Dowdy was strapped on a backboard and saw no evidence of rape, a talent that would surprise experienced sexual-assault nurses.
Then began the panty war: Two prosecution witnesses, a paramedic and Barry Ragsdale, an undercover narcotics officer with the Dallas Police Department, testified that these "party girls" often go out without panties.
Absurd and rank speculation, but Caswell allowed it. Though Dowdy later testified she was wearing panties that night and usually did so, by then the prosecutor had repeatedly "predicted" she would say so--implying Dowdy was covering up her panty-wearing habits.
It was a massacre. The defense put on Porrata and Zvocek, head and shoulders above the prosecution's witnesses in terms of expertise on GHB. But testifying in a criminal trial requires focus and firmness. Coyle hadn't prepped them, and they came off poorly to the jury.
Ragsdale's main qualification as a GHB expert was busting dealers and using the drug when it was legal. "His expertise compared to mine is minute," Porrata says. "He has no credibility of any kind." But Ragsdale's testimony was interpreted by jurors as authoritative. Guided by the prosecution, Ragsdale opined that the GHB claim seemed like an "after the fact defense."