Trouble in Paradise (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday August 7, 2007 11:00AM; Updated: Tuesday August 7, 2007 3:39PM
As police investigated, they found "pays and owes" sheets at Wright's apartment. Then James Clark, a Bobcats assistant basketball coach, informed police that Miller had several handguns and Wright's I.D. card. Police later found those items -- including a gun that police told the Belgrade (Mont.) News was the same caliber as the shell casings found near Wright's body -- in another basketball player's locker at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. LeBrum and Miller were arrested on June 29, 2006, and charged with aggravated kidnapping, tampering with evidence and deliberate homicide. Both men have pleaded not guilty in the capital case.
News of the arrests shook Bozeman and left Montana State fans feeling violated. The teams, especially football, are well supported by the denizens of Gallatin County. A Bobcats victory, such as last year's 19-10 upset of Colorado in the opener, fosters pride and unites the southwestern portion of the state like little else. Jeff Welsch, the sports editor of the Chronicle , heard about LeBrum and Miller while on his drive back after fly-fishing on the upper Yellowstone River. In the following Sunday paper he wrote, "Murder. Kidnapping. Cocaine. Here. In Paradise. It's all so incongruous, so spiritually bankrupt, so very wrong."
Geoff Gamble, Montana State's president, is short and bespectacled, with a neatly trimmed beard. He played defensive back for a year at Fresno State and has a doctorate in linguistics from Cal. Gamble, 65, came to Bozeman seven years ago after serving as senior vice president and provost at Vermont, where a hazing scandal involving the hockey team in 1999 drew national attention. He acknowledges that Montana State could have done more to prevent its athletic department from embarrassing the school and straining relations with the town. Most notably, says Gamble, "we should not have been bringing in recruits who had little or no chance of succeeding academically and socially."
Yet according to a report compiled last February by a panel of independent investigators hired by the school, the Bobcats had been doing just that for years. Investigators found that the football program had almost total autonomy in getting recruits admitted and that it was "prioritizing the team's competitive needs without full consideration of the academic impact" of taking large numbers of transfers. The report scolded the program for its low APR, which under NCAA guidelines caused the loss of three scholarships for the coming season. The basketball program was spared direct criticism, but the entire athletic department was cited for failing to properly review the academic credentials of incoming athletes, among other shortcomings.
When the report came out, Gamble said there was little in it he didn't already know, and athletic director Peter Fields likened it to a financial audit. Both heaped praise on Kramer, with Gamble citing his "integrity." Their stance changed, however, when Rick Gatewood was arrested and charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and distribution of cocaine. Police linked the rise in cocaine use in Montana to the birth of Gatewood's alleged drug operation, having seized more of the drug in the past two years than in the previous seven years combined. "We didn't have a cocaine problem in Montana 20 months ago," says Lieut. Dan Springer, commander of the Missouri River Drug Task Force.
Randy Gatewood pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell cocaine on July 26 and will be sentenced in November; a charge of conspiracy possession is pending. Rick has a Sept. 17 court date and has pleaded not guilty. Law enforcement officials in Gallatin County have declined to comment on a link between Wright's murder and the drug ring. However, Miller and LeBrum allegedly joined with Randy Gatewood in a fight outside a downtown bar six days before Wright's murder. Gatewood has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of assault, but police say Miller and LeBrum could also face charges.