The Dope Bowl

Gee, could it have been...the lesbian sex show?
Or was it all those previous sex parties? The cocaine-laced marijuana these folks liked to smoke? Or the strip search of Rachelle Smith--the one where Michael Irvin ordered someone to explore her orifices for microphones right before he told her what to say to a Dallas County grand jury?

Perhaps we'll never know what the most embarrassing detail was that prompted Michael Irvin to stop the hemorrhaging at his drug trial. "I think he was cut bad and bleeding all over the place," says First Assistant District Attorney Norm Kinne, referring to the football superstar. "And they wanted to do some damage control."

It's a little late for that now. I mean, about the only thing we don't know about Michael Irvin at this point is whether his wife will leave him.

Clearly, this trial had to end because it was more than anyone could take. How could Jerry Jones stand one more day of howlingly bad public relations for the team that Valley Ranch wants you to believe is No.1 in both football and family values? How could Michael Irvin stand the fact that as more and more details came out about him, there were fewer and fewer fans who could ever look at those hands again and think of football? How could District Attorney John Vance stand to have yet another extremely high-profile case be tried in his office without so much as a Maolike cameo appearance from the boss--especially when the defendant's attorney, Royce West, has openly declared that he wants Vance's job? Tell us, Mr. District Attorney, are you alive up there on the 10th floor, or is that a mannequin propped behind your desk?

But the most embarrassing thing about the Michael Irvin trial is that it never should have happened in the first place. The extent of the twistedness in Irvin's personal life would have remained largely speculative if Irvin had taken his medicine 19 weeks ago when he first got busted. But that didn't happen. Instead, we got a show we won't soon forget.

Brett Shipp had to go to the bathroom.
Normally this would not be a problem. But there was nothing normal about being in Dallas' Frank Crowley Criminal Courts Building on a steaming hot day in early July when Michael Irvin was on trial for drugs.

Never mind that the place was a zoo--that there were several dozen reporters, producers, photographers, and TV cameramen camped out on the fifth floor, tapping away at laptop computers, staring into video monitors, talking on mobile telephones, aiming their TV cameras at the elevators in the hopes of getting yet another scintillating shot of Michael Irvin entering or exiting the courthouse.

Never mind that there were always star-struck, slobbering fans clogging up the hallways, determined to get an autograph or a glimpse of the lanky football celebrity. Or that courthouse employees were buzzing in and out of Criminal Court No. 5, blushing and giggling and thrilled out of their minds to see somebody other than your run-of-the-mill scuzzbag sitting at the defense table.

None of which prevented well-known WFAA-TV Channel 8 reporter Brett Shipp from going to the bathroom.

Shipp's problem was the big bruiser in the bright purple sweat pants with the tight, white T-shirt and the semishaved head who looked like he enjoyed eating fair-haired reporter boys for a midmorning snack.

It was 10:40 a.m. on Wednesday, July 3, and after only an hour of testimony in front of the jury, state District Judge Manny Alvarez had just called for a break in the proceedings.

For the 24 reporters who had been sitting on hard, wooden spectator benches since 8:30 a.m.--afraid to leave the room lest the proceedings suddenly commence and the bailiffs lock them on the wrong side of the courtroom doors--the break was a mixed blessing. True, it only slowed what was turning out to be the world's most protracted drug-possession proceeding. But on the other hand, it provided that small window of opportunity to call the newsroom, confer with a cameraman or producer in the hallway, or--yes--go to the bathroom.

Or try to.
"Can't use this bathroom," the bruiser said, standing in front of the men's room door like he was playing bouncer at a hot nightclub, both arms folded defiantly across his chest. "Michael's in there."

Shipp was a bit stunned--you know, seeing as how this was a public bathroom in a public building where presumably everybody, including football players, had to pee in a quasi-public manner.

"He wouldn't even look at me while he was talking," Shipp says. "He was looking all around--you know, doing one of these." Shipp puts on his best thuglike expression and fixes his stare on some distant, ostensibly more important place on the horizon.

The bruiser, seeing that Shipp was still standing there, muttered, "Use this bathroom," nodding toward a separate, handicapped toilet located next to the men's room.

"No," Shipp told him. "That's a handicapped bathroom."
Lucky for the bruiser, Brett Shipp is no Marty Griffin, the overly ambitious KXAS-TV Channel 5 reporter with the skunklike hairdo and greasy reporting techniques. (Last week, Griffin's promotions touting a big expose on jury tampering in the Irvin case resulted in a delay in the trial proceedings while the judge polled jurors about the bizarre and unexplained allegation. When Griffin's "big" piece finally ran Thursday night, it contained no information about jury tampering--just more garbage from former Cowboy errand boy Dennis Pedini.)

Griffin would have planted a hidden camera in his hairdo and crashed past the bruiser--hoping to get flattened like so much road kill just so he could go Live at Five with bloody injuries. He would, we are certain, have produced amazing and exclusive footage of Michael Irvin urinating on his brown alligator shoes. (Irvin was, indeed, wearing supremely ugly alligator shoes that day--although, who knows? they may have been fake--and Irvin would surely have urinated on them if he had spied Marty Griffin rushing toward him with the high-tech hairdo and the blood.)

Shipp, though, is a calm, sober, reflective type who wanted to leave for a week-long vacation in Colorado three days hence without having to wear a body cast. So he simply waited in the hallway until Irvin, who was wearing an unmistakable shiny burgundy suit, finished his business. At which time Bruiser Man went at-ease and escorted Irvin back to the courtroom, allowing the men's room, built by the taxpayers for the enjoyment and relief of the masses, to return to its normally nonprivileged status.

"I knew who he was," Shipp later said of the mystery guard, who refused to give reporters his name that morning and then subsequently--and mysteriously--disappeared from the courthouse altogether. "Some little personal goon of Irvin's."

Well, gee, isn't everybody?

It's no wonder that Michael Irvin seems so severed from reality. Must the entire world fawn over this man? We had to hear about every single person--the mother, the sister, the cute little niece with the hair bow--who flew in to support him in his darkest hour of need. But did we have to maintain a straight face when Troy Aikman made a cameo appearance and planted himself--this strikingly handsome Cro-Magnon man--in the front row of the courtroom, directly behind his pal Irvin, and then insisted that he didn't come "to try to influence the jury in any way"?

Sitting at the trial day in and day out, there was only one consistent reaction from courthouse observers. Was this Irvin guy kidding--not letting people into the public bathrooms; not letting people get on the elevators with him (yes, he did that, too); trying to palm himself off as a quiet family man and a civic savior who, as defense lawyer Royce West put it so gaggingly during opening arguments, has "brought championship football back to Dallas"?

Well, he's also brought back that unmistakable whiff of sheer lunacy--the one we've been missing ever since the New Black Panthers decided to put their guns down long enough to watch the Michael Irvin show.

Of course, it was always a pretty simple story.
In the early morning hours of March 4, well-known party animal Michael Jerome Irvin, a married man with two kids--well, two legitimate ones, anyway--got caught celebrating his 30th birthday in a suburban hotel, a room where police also discovered a couple of cheap-looking broads in halter tops and a plethora of recreational drugs. It was a very tawdry scene for a member of America's Team, but one that could have been dealt with pretty quietly if Irvin had simply publicly apologized, however insincerely, pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor marijuana and felony cocaine charges a Dallas County grand jury slapped him with, and served out his probation--pretty much the guaranteed punishment for a big-time football star with no prior criminal record.

Instead, he did a small variation on that scenario--a no-contest plea vs. a guilty one--and suffered the enormous consequences of forever being labeled a big doper with a big ol' kinky sex life. "He's got to change his lifestyle to live up to the terms of this deal, and I don't believe he can do it," says Kinne. "Based on our investigation in this case, with all the people involved that we have talked to, this isn't a first-time thing; it's not the first time he walked in with a bunch of cocaine. I believe he has a problem, and I don't believe he's confronted the problem or admitted he has one.

"It's going to be like Roy Tarpley," Kinne adds, referring to the former Dallas Maverick star. "We tried to rehabilitate him, turn his life around, and apparently he didn't want to. I feel Michael Irvin is cut from the same cloth."

There are good-size hints to that effect already, starting with Irvin's decision to dazzle us with his intellectual brilliance by wearing a floor-length mink coat and his Mack Daddy sunglasses to his grand-jury proceeding. Irvin felt more than confident--one of his attorneys told me--that he would not get indicted. He felt this, in part, because he had been Teflon at the courthouse before that: He had coasted through a Dallas County District Attorney's office investigation of fraudulent American Airline tickets that various Cowboys had been buying, and he'd also been able to keep his distance from the Erik Williams alleged rape incident that the Collin County district attorney most ardently wanted Irvin to testify about.

But Irvin was indicted. So he and attorney Kevin Clancy went to the district attorney's office--long before the trial ever started--and tried to make a deal. Irvin would plead guilty to the misdemeanor marijuana charge--if prosecutors dropped the felony cocaine charge.

The prosecutors had no reason to accept Irvin's generous offer to plead guilty to a lesser charge--after all, in their minds there was plenty of cocaine in the hotel room that night for everybody to snort, smoke, roll, flush, whatever, and still leave plenty to flash around at trial. (Testimony at trial revealed that Irvin and his friends scurried around inside the hotel room for several long, portentous minutes before opening the door for the police. If they were hiding stuff, they didn't do a very good job; then again, they may have just made the executive decision to get some clothes on.) The district attorney also had Irvin's fingerprints on some of the plates that held the drugs.

The district attorney's office turned down Irvin's offer and got ready for trial--if you can call it that. In reality, it was more of a vaudeville show than a court proceeding.

Take, for instance, the ringmaster himself: state District Judge Manny Alvarez.

Alvarez is what courthouse regulars call a baby judge. He's not only a mere 41 years old; he's only been a judge for a year. In July 1995, Governor George Bush Jr. chose Alvarez to fill the position vacated by state District Judge Pat McDowell, who had resigned after 14 years on the criminal bench to take an administrative position assigning visiting judges to courts in a 34-county area. (There were other, more experienced people in the running for McDowell's post, but Bush reportedly wanted to appoint a Hispanic--though the joke's on somebody since Alvarez is half-Cuban, half-Italian.)

It's tough being compared to McDowell, who was experienced, cool-headed, humble, and fair. He was nice to the media, nice to lawyers, and did a yeoman's job in keeping his ego and temper in check for the big, high-profile cases that came his way, one of which was the Walker Railey case.

And, unfortunately, Alvarez is no Pat McDowell.
Yes, he's smart and articulate and a decent enough guy, and he seems pretty even-handed when it comes to applying the law. But Alvarez is also temperamental, and he was far too gingerly when it came to tolerating the shenanigans of Irvin's defense lawyers, who really did believe that they were the O.J. Dream Team redux.

But Alvarez's flaw is that he's drop-dead gorgeous, and he knows it--which can be boring coming from most men but is downright scary when you have an elected official with real power who delights in seeing himself in the mirror. Alvarez is a preener, a neatnik, and a clothes freak. Back when he was starting his legal career as a young prosecutor in the district attorney's office, fellow prosecutors nicknamed him "Pretty Boy," and people still remember it. Says one former coworker: "We were just amazed that he always looked like he just stepped off a page in GQ."

But for the past year, Alvarez has been John Wayne without a horse--lucky if he even got the beat reporter for The Dallas Morning News to poke his head in the door once in a while to see if Alvarez was alive and breathing. Alvarez's cases were routine murder and mayhem; nothing he did attracted anyone's attention.

Literally overnight, though, Alvarez became the hottest media ticket in town, and the man was obviously enthralled with his new status--very Ito-esque. He had his poor court coordinator, David Lozano, go home every night and feverishly tape all the Irvin segments on the 10-o'clock news, on all four local stations, so that Alvarez could preserve the footage of himself for posterity. Worse, Alvarez dispatched Lozano halfway through the trial to ask an ESPN reporter if she could make copies of all the footage she had of the judge that Lozano might have missed.

It was clear to all who quaked in his wake that one of the reasons this crummy little drug possession case was destined to take weeks instead of two or three days was because Alvarez was just having too much fun. He was in no rush to see the spotlight focused somewhere else.

He took a half-day off from the pretrial hearings to go to San Antonio for the Republican state convention. He shut down court on July 5--the day after Independence Day--while the rest of the courthouse stayed open for business. He never started the day's proceedings earlier than 9:30; he was quick to take "10-minute" breaks that always turned into 30; and he reserved 90 minutes for lunch, which he usually took with one of his old lawyer pals at Sal's Italian restaurant on Wycliff Avenue. Last Thursday, he halted the proceedings at 3 p.m. and sent the jury home until Monday, reserving all of Friday for consults between himself and the lawyers (which he typically does in chambers behind closed doors).

And, yes, despite protestations to the contrary, Alvarez did take one entire hour last week to confer privately in chambers with fellow lady-killer Troy Aikman--all so that Aikman could enjoy a smooth and successful transition from being beloved football superhero in the morning to mild-mannered courtroom spectator in the afternoon. (Alvarez graciously loaned Aikman his private elevator, located just behind the courtroom, so Aikman could arrive at court without being mobbed by the masses.)

Alvarez seemed totally unfazed that during jury selection two women who later were on the panel--one as an alternate--voiced specific concerns about the length of the trial. One had just started a new job and was worried that an extended jury service would jeopardize her position; the other had an important family vacation planned for the end of the month. "Don't stay up nights worrying about that," Alvarez said with almost whimsical jocularity. "That may not be an issue we have to deal with."

She has to be thanking her lucky stars this is over.
Alvarez was so disrespectful of other people's time--so seemingly unaware that there was life outside Criminal Court No. 5--that two weeks ago he simply chose to ignore, over a two-day period, a very pricey, very high-profile media lawyer named Chip Babcock who had come down to Alvarez's court on the extremely minor matter of quashing yet another subpoena for Marty Griffin to appear in court. (Babcock represents Channel 5--and this newspaper, by the way--among other media organizations.)

After waiting around for several hours on July 1, Babcock left the courthouse and returned in the afternoon--only to be ignored again for several more hours. Babcock, who by 3:30 p.m. could no longer wait on the judge because he had to be somewhere to pick up one of his children, received the judge's permission to return the next morning--which Babcock did at 8:30 a.m. He then stood around in the courtroom, waiting and waiting, until 11:07 a.m., at which time the judge deigned to appear. For several hours, the judge had been conferring privately in chambers with the Irvin prosecutors and defense attorneys--all while 12 jurors, two alternates, and 28 reporters sat around with Babcock and various court personnel waiting for something to happen.

None of the reporters moved for two hours--despite the fact that many of them, myself included, really would have liked to go to the bathroom. But Alvarez had created such a sicko-wacko-control-freak atmosphere--in which the bailiffs were ordered to lock the doors the minute the judge began the proceedings, no matter who was stuck outside or for what reason--that no one would ever chance leaving their spots.

One afternoon, KDFW-TV Channel 4 reporter-anchorwoman Julia Somers, who you'll be happy to know is an awfully nice woman with a stellar disposition, found herself in the unenviable position of having to leave the courtroom midtestimony to throw up; we think it was something she ate at lunch. Needless to say, she couldn't get back in. Everyone noticed, however, that when Michael Irvin's family members came back late from lunch one day, all four or five of them were allowed to troop into the room and settle themselves into the front row during a policeman's testimony.

So it really shouldn't have surprised anybody that on the second morning of Babcock's marathon wait, Alvarez blithely entered the courtroom at 11:07 and plopped himself down in his chair. "We forgot all about you," Alvarez said casually, looking at Babcock with bemusement. Alvarez then told his bailiff to "go get Royce West" so they could deal with Babcock--and then he mentioned by name the specific matter Babcock wanted to discuss. Only it wasn't the right name. Because the judge clearly had no idea who Babcock was or what he was doing in his court.

"Griffin," Babcock said, correcting the judge.
"I'm sorry?" Alvarez said.
"I'm here on the Griffin subpoena," Babcock said.

"All you lawyers are starting to look alike," Alvarez said, kind of laughing.

About a minute later, with all the lawyers in the case assembled, the defense attorneys withdrew their subpoena--the third withdrawn in a row. "Chip, thank you for coming," Alvarez said.

A few minutes later, at 11:30, the judge recessed for lunch--until 1:30 p.m.
And so it went. As jurors, court employees, and news reporters watched their vacations come closer and closer to being jeopardized by this guy, they could be sure of only one thing: that there would be an Irvin verdict by August 13, the day Alvarez's first baby, already named Nicholas James Alvarez, was due to be born.

"He wants to be totally free to participate in all of that," one courthouse employee told me in midtrial.

Meanwhile, in the intervening monotony, people in and out of the courtroom began sizing up this Michael Irvin case.

"A case like this comes down to the jurors' personal experiences, their perceptions of things--all of which becomes an important part of the deliberations," said defense attorney Stuart Parker, a past president of the Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers' Association, in a conversation we had during the second week of the trial. "In the end, a case like this--which demands an interpretation of the legal definition of possession and whether Michael Irvin had it--will come down to what these people think about police officers and Dallas Cowboy football players."

Irvin's attorneys, of course, wanted the jury to adore and admire Michael Irvin; they wasted no time in painting a picture of a son of a roofer, one of 17 children, who "pulled himself up by the bootstraps" and became a Dallas Cowboys icon. His attorneys also wanted the jurors to dislike, distrust, and generally loathe the cops who crashed Irvin's little sex party and the prosecutors who decided to aggressively do something about the drugs the cops found there.

One prosecutor, who anxiously watched the case from afar, observed that Irvin's lawyers were putting on a classic O.J. defense.

"The defense's job in any case is to keep the jury's eye off of the ball," the prosecutor explained. "Stay away from the fact that his fingerprints are on the plate that has the dope on it. Attack everything else. Attack everybody else. Go down so many rabbit trails that you lose sight of the ball. If the lawyers are successful at doing that, fine. But if the jurors keep their eyes on the ball, they'll have to see he was with all the dope."

It was, of course, the only defense that made sense. But not all of Irvin's lawyers were in agreement on that. In fact, at the beginning of the trial a rift developed between defense lawyers because one of Irvin's token African-American lawyers, state Senator Royce West, wanted to hinge the defense on the O.J. race card.

"I really think Royce was on this case because Michael Irvin thought there would be more blacks on the jury, and Royce would play a more determinant role in that," says someone in Irvin's defense camp. "And if four or five jurors had been black, that would have been more of a factor in the defense. But that wasn't the case when we were left with only one black on the jury. But Royce was planning to go there anyway."

What's insanely ironic about this is that if Michael Irvin wanted a black lawyer involved in the case to help him win over black jurors, he couldn't have picked a worse lawyer. Not because West is totally inept--he was velvety smooth during jury selection--but in the end, several jurors were struck by the prosecution on the grounds that they knew West personally, simply because he is an Oak Cliff-area politician. He had either schmoozed them at a function, given them campaign literature, or generally kissed their babies. So, before any testimony could be put on about alleged racial injustice, West had caused disqualification of the most receptive audience.

When West wanted to play the O.J. card anyway--a la Johnnie Cochran--fellow defense lawyer Don Godwin made it clear in strategy meetings that it wasn't going to be enough to, for example, try to paint Irving cops as racist for saying that Michael Irvin's eyes were bloodshot on the night of March 4. West had made a point during opening arguments to say that all African-American men had bloodshot eyes, and that Irving cops were just too ethnically insensitive to realize that. (One of the memorable moments in the trial came when the black cop--one of the four cops who went to the hotel--said, no, Irvin's eyes were more red that night than your average black man's.)

In truth, Irvin's lawyers--Royce West and the three white guys--were no Dream Team.

West has a great voice and a nice rapport with folks, but he's not very crisp when it comes to making a cogent legal argument, and listening to him pompously explaining to the judge what the "intent of the Texas Legislature" was on every statute that was reviewed got awfully tiresome.

Kevin Clancy is a flat, grossly unimpressive criminal lawyer who was far too antagonistic to the prosecution's witnesses and had enormous trouble advancing the ball for the home team. Moreover, he was in desperate need of some good posture.

Clancy had represented Irvin on the airline-ticket scandal and the Erik Williams subpoena. So Irvin had stuck with him, navely thinking that Clancy would just waltz him through the drug arrest, too. When Irvin got indicted, though, Jerry Jones decided that his star player needed better legal help and told Irvin to add Jones' own lawyer to the defense team.

Don Godwin is a civil trial lawyer who, for the past five years, has handled Jones' business matters, things like contract disputes. Though he's not a criminal lawyer, Godwin has stepped in on occasion at Jones' request when Cowboys players have gotten into particularly sticky legal trouble. Godwin handled the Erik Williams alleged rape case, in which the supposed victim ultimately and abruptly backed off. He also handled Williams' DWI case, and when Irvin and Alfredo Roberts got caught in the motel room with topless dancers and cocaine, Jones recommended Godwin to Roberts.

Roberts was not indicted. Irvin was. Godwin joined Irvin's defense team.
Though Godwin was third fiddle to Clancy and West, who were already on the case and were bona fide criminal defense attorneys, Godwin ended up outshining both of them, which didn't take a lot of effort. Cross-examination emerged as his forte, and when the prosecution pulled out its star witness, topless dancer Rachelle Smith, Irvin insisted that Godwin be the one to cross-examine her.

But the defense lawyer who really shone on this case was Ron Goranson, who was in the least sexy job of all--that of book lawyer, researching case law to argue specific points to the judge. He came off as bright, articulate, and not into showboating--qualities sorely lacking on Irvin's side of the courtroom.

It's hard to say what the jurors made of the picayune, grossly repetitive, excruciatingly contentious examination of witnesses. The theme of the defense was precisely what West declared it would be in his opening argument: "What you will also realize is that this is really a comedy of errors by the Irving Police Department," West said.

As we know from the O.J. and Walker Railey cases, one of the easiest things to do in a criminal defense case is make the cops who worked on it look like buffoons. It's not hard to do. Typically, you're talking about guys of average intelligence who, because it's the nature of the crime business, have to respond to unpredictable crises of various stripes in a totally spontaneous manner that only invites errors of judgment. Later down the line, those errors are seized upon with glee by guys with fancy law degrees who get paid up to $400 an hour to find those mistakes and magnify them a hundred times so they can pistol-whip the cops with them in front of a jury.

It happened in O.J. It happened in Walker Railey. Why should Michael Irvin's case have been different? Irvin's lawyers--with varying degrees of success--spent hours trying to paint the Irving cops as stinking, rotten, bold-faced liars.

"How long were you on the landing?" Kevin Clancy asked the prosecution's first witness, Irving patrol officer Matthew Drumm, the baby cop who led a conga line of four cops up the outside staircase of the Marriott Residence Inn that March night, before stopping on a second-floor landing and listening outside the room in which Irvin and his friends were partying.

"Approximately one minute," Drumm answered.
"Do you remember testifying previously?" Clancy asked, referring to Drumm's testimony at a pretrial hearing.

"Yes," Drumm said.
"Didn't you say 'one to two minutes'?" Clancy sneered.
"Yes," Drumm said.
"Why?" Clancy said.
"Approximately one minute," Drumm said.
"Why did you say 'one to two'?" Clancy shot back, smelling blood.

"I don't mean to be sarcastic," Drumm said slowly. "I wasn't looking at my watch."

"You don't know because you don't remember, do you?" Clancy declared, loud and triumphantly.

"I didn't have a watch," Drumm said.

But even the Dream Team would have had a hard time salvaging this case. The sleaze just oozed out everywhere, and more was on the way had the trial continued.

Take the dildos, for instance.
When the cops confiscated the drugs, they also grabbed a man's brown shaving kit filled with dildos--that's right, vibrators. You know, sexual devices. The cops took them because they were so bizarre-looking that they thought they might be illegal items. Hell, they'd never seen things quite like this before.

"Michael might want those," Angela Beck told Officer Drumm as he quizzed her about the three penis-shaped devices that were in the bag.

The scariest-looking dildo was the pink, rubber, 14-incher that could be turned on with a remote-control device. It had some little round balls inside it that could be seen through a band of clear plastic located around the midpenis area: When the power was on, the balls jumped around like they were in a gumball machine.

There was also some kind of gizmo called a "butt plug," which I don't even want to speculate about. A state legislator from Houston was found dead from a drug overdose in his apartment in Austin in 1991, and he had rubber bands wrapped around his penis for some reason I'm no authority on--but butt plugs are new to me. And they were new to the prosecutors who would have loved to have explored their purpose in court had they been able to convince Judge Alvarez to allow the dildos into evidence by somehow linking them to the drug charges.

Most of the members of the press corps at the trial were aware of the dildos, which were mentioned briefly in some pretrial testimony when only a few reporters were in attendance. In fact, in duller moments during the trial, reporters were known to have begun making rather loud buzzing sounds--out of the jury's presence, of course--and once when my pager, which was on buzz instead of beep, went off in the courtroom, there was appreciable laughter and the usual dildo jokes.

Virtually all the media organizations in town, though, made a formal management decision not to mention Michael's dildos unless they were specifically discussed in formal testimony. "Chapel 8," as reporters call Channel 8--home of that sugary Family First series--is one place where the decision to ignore the dildos was made at the very highest levels.

The Morning News made a similar hands-off-the-dildos decision--though it did make mention several months ago of two paternity suits that have been filed in Dallas against Irvin. Both would have provided trump cards for prosecutors had Irvin's lawyers persisted in trying to make him out to be a choir boy. One was a case filed in 1990 by a 27-year-old Mesquite woman named Felicia Paulette Walker who had just then given birth to a baby girl.

According to documents filed in the case, which was sealed by the judge at Irvin's request, Irvin contested Walker's claim that the child was his until a blood test came back confirming his paternity. In the end, Irvin agreed to set up a $210,000 trust fund for his daughter. The daughter received $1,000 a month in interest income from the trust until four months ago when that amount increased to $1,250 a month. Then, in the year 2004, the support will increase again--by another $250 a month. On the day before the child turns 18 years old, she will receive all the money in the trust--but should her mother ever go after Irvin legally to change the terms of the support arrangement, the trust fund will immediately vest in the name of Michael Irvin, who will no longer be required to support the child.

"At that time he was coming off knee injuries," says Family Court Judge Hal Gaither, "and his future really did look pretty bleak. No one really knew how well he would perform, and at that time he hadn't signed a really big contract."

Gaither says that once the blood test produced a positive result, Irvin no longer tried to shirk his responsibility, and that he indicated that he would not only support the girl financially but exercise his visitation rights. He was also ordered to add the girl to his Dallas Cowboys group health insurance.

Four months after that child was born--two months after her mother filed the paternity case--Irvin married his current wife, Sandy Harrell, according to Dade County, Florida, marriage-license records. (Her name is commonly spelled Sandi in newspaper articles.)

The marriage occurred shortly after a paternity case was filed against Irvin in Miami, where a woman named Sonya Yvette Johnson had been claiming for several years that Irvin was the father of her baby boy. Right around the time that Irvin was getting married and taking blood tests for the Mesquite woman's paternity case, he was also taking a series of blood tests for the Miami case--which came back negative. Johnson dropped that paternity suit.

But Irvin's paternity troubles apparently were not over, because on February 13, 1995, a 25-year-old Irving woman named Stacy Shore filed suit against him--claiming that he was the father of her then-unborn child. Now that Irvin was married, producing legitimate children and winning Super Bowl games for the Cowboys, those paternity suits had the potential to become very embarrassing.

So Irvin quietly and quickly settled Shore's case out of court. "I can't discuss it with you at all," says the woman's Dallas lawyer, Debra Pritchett. "There's a confidentiality clause," she adds, that was written into the settlement agreement. Shore, who contacted the Observer, refused to comment on her relationship with Irvin or whether she ever had one.

No wonder Irvin lives in such a modest house in Carrollton. It's tough supporting three families--not to mention another one that never made it into court records.

We would have heard more about Irvin's prowess as an adulterer had Rachelle Smith gotten on the stand in front of the jury as planned last Monday, before the lawyers struck a plea agreement.

In one of the great weirdo-isms of the trial, the defense had been planning to destroy Smith's credibility as a witness by proving her a liar--specifically by going after her for saying, as she did the previous Friday out of the presence of the jury, that she had never, ever, slept with Michael Irvin. It was a statement under oath that the defense could prove was a lie--one of the Irvin lawyers told me triumphantly--which is a pretty strange way to try to clear your client's name.

"What did people think they were doing all those times they were together in the hotel room?" says the lawyer, referring to Smith's testimony that she and Irvin had been at a series of drug parties prior to the March incident. Do we have a forest-for-the-trees problem here? Irvin must have thought so.

The district attorney's office was praying that Michael Jerome Irvin would not be able to harness his tremendous ego and would insist, against his defense attorneys' most ardent wishes, that he be allowed to testify on his own behalf in his drug possession case.

If he had, and he did not strictly adhere to the events of that night--and wandered off into being a good family man--Irvin would have gotten absolutely thrashed by the prosecution. There are lots of people who know the intimate details of Irvin's big party-man life--that's one of the drawbacks of doing lots of sleazy stuff with a lot of sleazy people--and the district attorney's office was ready to reveal those details.

In the end, about the only thing that Irvin had on his side was Indidi Kupirai Owens.

Twenty-five-year-old Indidi Owens was a member of the Irvin jury. She was also the only one of five African-Americans who survived the strikes of the prosecution during jury selection.

The other four were struck because they knew of, or had met, Royce West. Or they worked in a job related to the legal system--one guy was a probation officer, for example--that may have given them an exalted status in the eyes of the other jurors. Or one lady--a solid, middle-age woman with a lively way about her--had served once on a hung jury, which the prosecution didn't want to see happen on this case.

But Indidi Owens survived the questioning. Though for the life of me, I don't know why.

On May 1 of this year--less than two months before she was summoned to the courthouse and placed in the Michael Irvin drug possession-case jury pool--Indidi Owens successfully finished serving six months' probation on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge.

This is what happened: On the afternoon of June 1, 1995, Owens purchased a baggie of marijuana from a known drug house in East Oak Cliff. She had driven up to the house in a 1989 Ford Festiva whose inspection sticker was expired.

Clearly not the world's brightest girl, Owens stuck her weed under her emergency-brake handle and drove off to a nearby convenience store where two Dallas police officers were parked. Spotting her expired registration sticker, the cops approached Owens' car on foot and asked for her driver's license. They then asked if she'd purchased any drugs at the well-known drug house down the road.

Owens turned over the marijuana.
The three prosecutors--Mike Gillett, Shannon Ross, and Aaron Wiley--who otherwise handled the case very well--were very impressed that when they asked the members of the original, 67-person jury pool if they'd ever been in trouble with the law, Owens was the only one who immediately shot up her hand. (Apparently there were several others in the pool who should have raised their hands, too, but didn't. None of them made the cut.)

The prosecutors were also impressed that Owens faithfully reported an incident to Judge Alvarez wherein some Michael Irvin fan followed her out of the courthouse during jury selection and down to her DART bus stop, all while chanting "Not Guilty" in her face, just so she'd get the hint about what to do if she was picked for the jury.

She was honest, the prosecution team decided. She was up-front.
Well, perhaps the prosecution should have looked at her driving record down at the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles--or her municipal court record over at Dallas City Hall. It turns out that on the same day Owens was arrested for buying pot, the Dallas cops found three outstanding warrants for her arrest. One was issued because she had used a fictitious inspection sticker on her car; the other two were issued because she had twice been found to be driving without the required liability insurance.

Owens was so doggedly negligent about her driving habits, in fact, that on September 19 of last year, her driver's license was indefinitely suspended by the state. Now, she takes the DART bus to the 7-Eleven store in Oak Cliff where she is a cashier. And she took a bus to the courthouse for the Irvin trial.

She was a bit slow about living up to Judge Alvarez's requirement to be at the courthouse by 9 a.m. She preferred to saunter in about 9:30 or 9:45 a.m.; she was routinely the last one to arrive. She also caused a small sensation on the day the jury panel was picked: When the 12 jurors were finally assembled by the judge, Owens was nowhere to be found. After she kept the lawyers, the judge, the media, and her fellow jurors waiting for about 20 minutes, the judge spotted her outside the courthouse, on the steps, in the 100-plus-degree heat, jamming to her rhythm-and-blues music on the headset she wears everyday.

Owens not only has no car, she has no home telephone. And though she registered to vote four years ago, she's never exercised the right.

Owens carried the burden of being the only black member of a jury that was to have weighed dope evidence against a high-profile, beloved black man. During the trial her 7-Eleven boss, Ronnie Todd, who is also African-American and considers himself Owens' friend, feared she would have been "pushed into buying into a view she doesn't believe in."

"You never know--the black-white thing is big," Todd told me during the trial. "You never know if she'll feel that kind of pressure--that she has to do this for the black race, or she had to bend her views for the white race."

What if Indidi Owens, a Cowboys fan, had returned to her minimum-wage job in Oak Cliff with a Michael Irvin conviction on her head? Todd says she could have caught a lot of heat from the customers. "I don't know if she's considered that," Todd said before the jury was dismissed. "But where we're located, the customers are 95-percent black."

And they were rooting for Michael Irvin.
"Because they're Cowboy fans, and they're black," Todd says. "And whether people realize it or not--whether they admit it or not and it's right or not right--it's going to be seen as a black-white thing."

"You can't get on this elevator," Irvin's attorney Kevin Clancy told a 49-year-old woman who had made the egregious mistake of trying to ride a public elevator at the courthouse on June 25, the first day of Irvin's trial.

Clancy held up his hand, and the woman, who was clearly and understandably intimidated, hesitated.

The woman's name was Kelly Johnson, and she had just finished standing in front of Judge Alvarez's courtroom for an hour, waiting for Irvin to emerge. Johnson had served on a jury in a different courtroom--she and her fellow jurors had just found a nobody guilty of drunk driving--and on her way home, she had decided to try to get Irvin's autograph for her son.

Johnson, who has a desk job at the downtown YWCA, was nicely dressed for court, and she had been waiting for that hour politely and quietly, hanging onto a pink lunch container, a black handbag, and a proof-of-jury-service document that she was going to turn into her boss the next day. She was hoping to get Irvin to autograph that document.

But when Irvin finally breezed out of the courtroom, Johnson got the strong, silent treatment, and Clancy brushed her off. As she pleaded all the way down the hall, which was empty at that particular moment except for a couple of reporters, Clancy and Irvin continued to ignore her--except for Clancy's raised hand at the elevator. Just before the elevator doors closed on the stunned fan, Clancy and Irvin saw that reporters were watching their pathetic little scene. At the last possible moment, they told Johnson that she could get an autograph when Irvin stepped off the elevator.

Which, of course, was ridiculous, since he was gliding away while she was left behind five floors in the sky. Not to be deterred, Johnson, who is not a small woman--or a fit woman--ran to the nearby escalators and began an O.J.-type sprint down five floors to try to meet Irvin as he got off the escalators.

It was so pitiful--her determination pitted against his gall--that I chased out after her. Down and down we went, one escalator after another, down to the basement of the building. Seeing no Michael Irvin anywhere, she proceeded to run right out of the basement, right into the parking garage, which she also searched in vain. Sweating and panting in her pink dress, she finally, regretfully gave up.

"Dang!" she cried out to no one but herself, tears nearly coming to her eyes. "Shucks. What could it have hurt if I'd ridden in the elevator with him?"

She looked at me, scribbling away in my notebook. "You see, this is why fans are so disillusioned."

Blaine Jon Howard and Paula Park contributed to this story.

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