After leaving Okla. St. in '07 Chris Collins' life spiraled out of control (cont.)
According to the Collins family, Hoover had assured them that there were ways to circumvent the requirement that Chris register as a sex offender. If Hoover, who died of a heart attack in 2009, did in fact make this promise, it was an empty one, for no such opportunities existed. "He just flat-out lied to us," said Collins' father, Chris Sr.
The testimony of "Leah" might have helped overturn Collins' sex offender requirement (Leah and another girl testified later, during Jackson's trial, that Jennifer told everyone at the party she was 16), but Leah died in an auto accident shortly after Collins' sentencing.
One of the few redeeming chapters in the Collins case is that race was not a factor. Jennifer and Leah were white and Chris and everyone else at the prom party was black. Collins sat before a predominantly white jury whose members were unilaterally sympathetic to him.
SI.com interviewed seven of the 12 jurors who heard the case. Each of these seven recalled that handing Collins the minimum sentence had been a quick and unanimous decision. Six of these seven jurors said they felt Collins should not have been required to register as a sex offender. (The juror who supported this sex offender requirement -- a black man, incidentally -- explained: "Because it's the law.")
"All 12 of us felt like it was kids being kids," said one juror, a white, middle-aged mother of a teenage girl. "There was no rape. He thought he was a 17-year-old with a 16-year-old. We learned that she had done this sneaking out thing before. This time she just got caught ..."
Another white mom on the jury said, "The whole group felt it wasn't just him. She blatantly lied about her age. And she wasn't [dragged] into the situation. She seemed to be the aggressor."
Said another juror: "If he hadn't pled guilty we'd have let him off scot-free."
"Chris Collins is as black as midnight," said a white juror. "I'm a big ol' redneck white guy. I came in there thinking, 'He's guilty, we should hang him.' I left there thinking he got a raw deal."
"People don't realize how much money it costs to be a registered sex offender," Collins said. There's the $60-per-month probation fee and the $40 installments toward the estimated $11,000 he owes in court costs and other fees. "And there's a class you gotta go to every two weeks. You gotta pay $25 each time. There's lie detector tests they can just assign to you. You gotta pay $200 for that." It's not a ton of money, unless you're out of work.
Collins isn't considered high-risk, but he's not allowed near schools, public swimming pools, or children who aren't in his family. These days, though, he doesn't have to worry about these restrictions because he's in a Texas state prison.
His road to incarceration began at Texas Southern University, the only program that would take him after he left Oklahoma State. Based in Houston, Texas Southern is where Collins fell in with a bad crowd and began letting the terms of his probation slide. He blew off his weekly sex offender class, and when he did show up he "exhibited a narcissistic attitude and failed to take the program seriously," according to a probation report.
"The way the probation's set up, it makes it look like I like kids," Collins said. "All those pictures of me in the newspaper, next to those words -- it brought so much shame on me and my family. I got frustrated and dealt with it the wrong way. I started smoking weed, like, 'F--- it, I don't care if I go to jail.'"
In April 2009 Collins failed a drug test for marijuana, violating his probation. He was sentenced to 30 days in county jail. After his release, his probation officer discovered nude photos of Collins and his 20-year-old girlfriend on his cellphone -- a violation of the order that he avoid all material portraying "nudity of a child or adult." Collins' P.O. "recommend[ed] that his probation be revoked and that he be sentenced to a term of incarceration."
Collins was sentenced to six months in state prison for his litany of violations. He did time at the Gurney facility in Palestine -- hometown of another member of the 2004 All-State team, Adrian Peterson -- and at the Moore Prison in Bonham, just north of Dallas, where former Oklahoma State teammate Dez Bryant was preparing for his rookie year with the Cowboys.
After his release, Collins found part-time work as a cook in February 2011. His manager said Collins was a good worker, but shifts were hard to come by because he was inexperienced. When Collins heard that there was full-time work to be had at the Pilgrims Pride chicken processing plant in Arkansas, he made the two-hour bus trip for an interview -- he didn't have a car -- and got a job on the "de-bone line," rendering breasts and thighs boneless.
Five days a week Collins took the bus to De Queen, Ark., for work. Some days during the commute he thought back to the lie detector test he'd taken six years earlier, before he was charged. In September 2004 Collins' father scraped $300 together to have a polygraph examination conducted by an examiner who did the same work for local law enforcement. According to the report of that exam, "relevant questions were asked along with other irrelevant and control type questions." The examiner concluded that Collins's responses "did not contain patterns indicitive (sic) of deception."
Those long bus rides to Arkansas added to his frustration. "I felt cheated out of my life," Collins said "I know I'm not perfect, but I was young. I made a mistake."
Six weeks into his employment at Pilgrims Pride, Collins skipped three straight days of work without calling in and was terminated. He didn't tell his P.O. about it, which was another probation violation. He also failed, for the umpteenth time, to show up and pay for a state-administered lie detector test. Collins tried to explain during a recent phone interview. "I got two kids," he said. "I don't have $200 to give someone to give me a polygraph test. I don't have that money to waste."
Other violations landed on his P.O.'s desk. In April 2011, Collins admitted to drinking a beer on two occasions. (Collins is barred from drinking alcohol.) The final straw came when he was charged with disorderly conduct in Little River County, Ark., on April 16.
That day, police responded to a domestic dispute call from Collins' girlfriend, who they found alone and bearing no evidence of injury or an altercation. When they contacted Collins and asked him to return to the scene, he complied but he was surly about it. When his girlfriend said that she wanted her phone back, Collins threw it over her fence.
The police were already going to take Collins in for an outstanding traffic citation, but tossing the phone earned him a disorderly conduct charge -- and a court date before the same judge who presided over his original case. Collins' girlfriend, Kenya King, said that the incident was blown out of proportion. She and Collins are planning to marry when he gets out of jail.
"They only gave me five years," Collins said earlier this month from jail. "I'll have to do about half of that, plus I got eight months previous time so all in all I'll have to do about a year and 10 months."
"Losing his football career was a big blow," said Collins' probation officer, David Rodgers. "He had always been on this path toward the NFL, following this dream, but now he's got to find another goal. That's been difficult for him. It's difficult for a lot of offenders we work with."
"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do as a coach," Gundy said of the day he let Collins go. "This was a kid who did everything we asked him to do. We took a good young man who had made a mistake, and we gave him an opportunity. He didn't do anything while he was here that made us regret that."
Before his current prison term, Collins had to renew his registration as a sex offender each year on his birthday. He brought a visitor with him last January, the day after he turned 24. His breath visible in the 30-degree air, Collins also brought his bulky ankle monitor and charger in for their monthly maintenance. He entered the Bi-State law enforcement building and its aroma of old sweat and industrial cleaner -- a smell that means you're in trouble -- took the graffiti-etched elevator up two floors and entered a small office where he updated his address and answered questions about his behavior, which at that time was fine.
He emerged holding a blue ID card the size of a driver's license. "It ain't that big a deal really," he said, pronouncing the last word in his thick, east Texas accent: rilly. But he isn't a good liar.
"That's one of the reasons we believed him," said one of the jurors. "He told police about what happened as soon as they asked. He told 'em he had sex with that girl the week before, too ... He never tried to hide behind any lies."
Now, with another empty football season upon him, and with prison bars between him and the world, the stigma forever linked with his name feels heavier than usual.
"I just gotta do my time and move on," Collins muttered during a recent phone call after the automated voice told him his 15 minutes were almost up. "I'm not no criminal, I know that."
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