This is how the police think it happened: At about 2:40 a.m. on Sunday, July 17, a gunman, crouched behind bushes, peered through the scope of a high-powered rifle and took aim. The target, some 100 yards away, was a bulky figure sitting in a brown leather chair on the front porch of the blue two-story frame house at 570 Woodland Avenue, just off the campus of the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Suddenly the quiet of the warm summer night was shattered by the rifle's crack. The bullet hit the man on the porch in the left ear, killing him instantly.
The victim was Trent DiGiuro, an honor student and Wildcat football player who was in line to be a starting offensive guard this fall. The murder occurred as a party for DiGiuro's 21st birthday was winding down. Some players were there, and everything had been mellow—until the shot. "It was such a relaxed atmosphere that you can't imagine something crazy like that happening," said quarterback Antonio O'Ferral, one of four players, including DiGiuro, who had rented the house for the summer.
Sean Mann, a Kentucky senior who is not on the football team, was sitting about seven feet away from DiGiuro when he was hit. "I heard a shot, and that was pretty much it,' " Mann says. No one at the party saw an assailant or tried to look for one. "We were more concerned with Trent," Mann says.
Later that morning coach Bill Curry, who had just returned from a vacation in Britain, learned of the killing and went to the house on Woodland Avenue. The body, of course, had been removed. But looking at the porch Curry noticed something that made him ill. All he could say was, "Let's clean this up." With that the coach found a bucket and brush, then dropped to his knees to scrub Trent DiGiuro's blood off the wooden planks.
The Wildcats had an open date last Saturday, and no team in the nation was more in need of time off. Their record is 1-4 after a 41-14 humiliation by Auburn on Sept. 29, but Curry, who has not had a winning record in four seasons at UK, insists that this squad has talent. If so, then how do you explain the 73-7 waxing by Florida on Sept. 10 or the 59-29 blowout by Indiana a week later, games that constituted Kentucky's worst back-to-back losses since the university began playing football in 1881?
There are any number of explanations: The team lacks depth and experience in both lines, it doesn't have a consistent quarterback, and the linebacking is shaky. But all that seemed almost incidental last week when the already dark saga of Kentucky football grew even more sinister. Last Wednesday the university announced that Curry's wife, Carolyn, had been the object of a death threat that had been called in to the football office the weekend after the Auburn game. The call reportedly may have come from a gambler who was enraged that UK had allowed Auburn to recover a late onsides kick then score a touchdown, which enabled the Tigers to cover the 23-point spread.
Curry, who, following the Auburn game, had a Monday-night speaking engagement in Atlanta, didn't hear the tape of the threat until Tuesday. That night Curry took his wife and his son, Billy, a graduate assistant on the Kentucky staff, to the Lexington airport and put them on a plane. Carolyn, who has been married to Bill for more than 30 years, is a part-time instructor at Kentucky who hated to leave her home and her job. But Curry was insistent, at least partly because of the possibility of a connection between the death threat and the DiGiuro case, a possibility police say they have discounted.
"I have to consider [the murder] because it happened," he said. "That was the reason I acted so strongly. In the absence of that, I might have responded differently. But it did happen."
On the morning before DiGiuro was killed. Dennis Sprague. Kentucky's team psychologist, ran into the player in the weight room, where he had been working during the summer under strength coach Mike Florence. A 6'2", 277-pound junior-to-be, DiGiuro told Sprague that he was so fired up about his chances of being a starter that he had asked Florence to give him some new conditioning exercises. "He also told me he was excited about his birthday party that night." Sprague says.
DiGiuro was the sort of player who warms a coach's heart. He came to Kentucky as a walk-on in 1991, moved up to the scout team in 1992, and last season played in seven games as a backup offensive guard. Last spring DiGiuro was finally promoted to the first team. Besides that. DiGiuro, a business major, was one of 14 Kentucky players to make the SEC Academic Honor Roll last season.