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The Party's Over
Richard Hoffer
July 08, 1996
The drug case of Michael Irvin took a dark turn when a Dallas cop allegedly tried to have him killed
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July 08, 1996

The Party's Over

The drug case of Michael Irvin took a dark turn when a Dallas cop allegedly tried to have him killed

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Celebrity goes on trial—again—and anybody who's uncomfortable with smirking, winking, lavender-clad and alligator-shod defendants ought to look elsewhere for more reassuring examples of jurisprudence. Say, Court TV, where degree of fame is not the principal defense and arrogance is not necessarily the same as innocence.

What's going on in Dallas, where it was proving nearly impossible even to select a jury for a small-time drug trial, doesn't seem to have all that much to do with law anyway. This case is our era's equivalent of a parking-ticket dispute, and it ought to be resolved just as routinely, without the need of hit men. Instead, it has become a study of the awesome privilege of being a Dallas Cowboy and perhaps of the establishment of a new legal standard for our assigned royalty. Taking the stand: grandeur, '90s style.

The truth, about all that we have so far, is that Michael Irvin, the star receiver for the world champion Cowboys, could have made this go away with a minimum of fuss. Indeed, a Super Bowl colleague of his, running back Bam Morris of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was charged with similar crimes (felony possession of cocaine and marijuana), albeit under decidedly less sensational circumstances, in a courtroom about 25 miles from where Irvin stands trial, and Morris has apparently escaped the complications Irvin now faces. All Morris had to do was assume some of the guilt and agree to a plea bargain (third-degree felony possession of marijuana). For all the damning details of Irvin's March 4 arrest—the topless "models" who were helping him celebrate his 30th birthday in a suburban Dallas hotel room that was stocked with far more potent pharmacology than Marriott's complimentary shampoo—there was no reason he couldn't have done the same.

Irvin didn't have to admit to drug use. He is not known to have ever tested positive, even though police found him that infamous night in the highly suggestive company of four grams of cocaine (about four Sweet 'N Low packets to you and me), a stash of marijuana, a tube like those used for snorting coke and some razor blades. About all he would have had to concede is that he was in the room—which became difficult to deny, as the first words out of his mouth upon the production of handcuffs were, "Can I tell you who I am?" If he had said he was in the room, was in some vague way in possession and was guilty of poor judgment, he probably would have walked away with probation. As a first-time violator of the NFL's drug policy and a convicted drug offender, Irvin probably would have been suspended for four games and subjected to counseling and periodic random testing. Life would have gone on.

But because this is Dallas and because he's Michael Irvin, such humility was deemed unnecessary. In a strategy that seemed wholly dependent on his local fame, Irvin pleaded not guilty to both felony possession of cocaine, which carries a maximum 20-year sentence, and misdemeanor possession of marijuana, with his team of four lawyers hanging its case on claims of an improper search by Irving, Texas, police at the time of his arrest. He decided, furthermore, to flaunt his lifestyle when most defense attorneys in such a case would prefer that their client apologize for it, and to inflame a nickel-and-dime drug case until it has become, surely will become, a bonfire of the vanities.

The story couldn't have gotten much hotter than it did last week when Dallas policeman Johnnie Hernandez was arrested and charged with soliciting the murder of Irvin, who allegedly had threatened the officer's common-law wife, Rachelle Smith, over her testimony to a grand jury. Irvin's arrest had already led to the revelation of the existence of the "White House," a two-story house near the Cowboys' Valley Ranch training facility at which Irvin and his teammates could escape the pressures of their fame and family and relax with more of those topless "models." In March reports surfaced on local newscasts suggesting a pattern of drug use among the players in this safe haven, and the brashness of this Super Bowl-winning organization was seen in full flower.

As exotic as this all was, though, nobody was prepared for news of a hit man. Then again, in a state that gave us the Texas Cheerleader Mom, murder for hire may be presumed to be an important industry, somewhat like gas and oil production. Apparently it's considered no trick whatsoever to contract for this kind of work; $30,000 will get the job done, with just 10% down. You can ask anybody (particularly undercover cops, who must make up a sizable portion of the Texas population). Still, everyone was a little surprised when the alleged hit was put on a five-time Pro Bowl player.

According to a source and published reports, this latest turn of events was occasioned by Irvin's brazen attempt to manipulate a witness, Smith. (Witness tampering is a felony in Texas, and the district attorney's office is considering filing additional charges against Irvin.) Smith was subpoenaed by the grand jury because her name—like those of Angela Beck and Jasmine Jennifer Nabwangu, the women with whom Irvin and former teammate Alfredo Roberts were found on March A—showed up several times on the register at the Residence Inn by Marriott where Irvin, Beck and Nabwangu were partying. It was, according to the source, "a crapshoot bringing her in."

Smith appeared before the grand jury without an attorney. According to the source, she testified that she not only knew Beck and Nabwangu (Beck danced with Smith at The Men's Club of Dallas and even gave her address as Smith's house when she was arrested) but also knew Irvin intimately. "She kept talking for several hours," the source said. "Rachelle told me that she has been to that hotel with Michael, and they were physically involved."

After she testified, the source said, Smith called Irvin to tell him she had gone before the grand jury. Irvin allegedly had two gofers, Dennis Pedini and Anthony (Paco) Montoya, take her to an apartment for his own line of questioning. According to the source, the men, fearing that she might be miked, strip-searched Smith before Irvin demanded the details of her testimony. Then Irvin "told her it would be real foolish to say that stuff in court," the source said. "He told her she would regret it."

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