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Witness for the Defense
Leigh Montville
September 04, 1995
"The scene was eerily familiar—a former football player, his estranged wife and a knife."
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September 04, 1995

Witness For The Defense

"The scene was eerily familiar—a former football player, his estranged wife and a knife."

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Two days later I read in the newspaper that he had been arrested and charged with the attempted murder with a knife of his estranged wife and her boyfriend at her suburban home at 1:30 in the morning on Nov. 6. I did the simple arithmetic in my head. This was no more than three hours after our conversation. The news was startling.

"I went back to my hotel after I left you," Clayborn said that day in the courthouse. "I called my wife again. I had been trying to get in touch with her all day. There still was no answer. I went to the house, rang the bell. No answer. I let myself in."

His story was that his estranged wife's boyfriend had jumped him and a fight had ensued and he'd picked up a knife in the kitchen to defend himself.

His wife's story was that he had attacked the boyfriend and picked up the knife and was going to kill the boyfriend and her. The fight had ended when he threw the knife. He said he was throwing it to the ground in disgust. His wife said he threw it at the boyfriend. One story was matched against the other.

From the witness stand I recited for Clayborn's lawyer my memory of the conversation that now was 2� years old. I suppose I was there to testify to Clayborn's state of mind on the night of the incident. The scene was eerily familiar—a former football player and his estranged wife, and something with a knife—but it was far, far away from the celebrated proceedings in Los Angeles. While his lawyer talked, Clayborn sat by himself at a long wooden table. The assistant district attorney sat at another long table by herself. There were no more than six spectators, one of them a local reporter taking notes. No glitter, no flash. This was the normal, stripped-down hum of the American judicial process.

The assistant DA asked her questions. I gave my answers. I was finished in 20 minutes. The trial, start to finish, took five days. I read in the paper, two days after my testimony, that the jury had acquitted him of attempted murder charges, finding him guilty of assault for kicking and punching the boyfriend. The story said he would receive probation, but no jail time.

"How do you feel about this?" someone asked. "Are you happy for him?"

"Tell the truth, I don't really know him," I said. "I just wrote a lot of stories about him a long time ago. Stories about football."

I wonder if he will ever give up smoking.

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