Media reaction to the indictments was swift. "We got crucified. We were tried, convicted and hung in 72 hours," says Colangelo. Edwards, Humphries and Gondrezick were immediately subjected to drug tests by the NBA; all tested negative. Davis, who had spent 30 days in a rehabilitation center in Van Nuys, Calif. in December 1985 and January '86, entered the same facility for another stay. The Suns, meanwhile, won their last game to finish the season 36-46 and out of the playoffs.
Soon the wheels started coming off the case. Defense lawyers contended that Phoenix police detective Gary Ball had inaccurately summarized the sworn statements of High and former Suns Alvin Scott and Don Buse for the grand jury. Scott then recanted part of his testimony. On June 13, High, who had told a local TV station that he had been receiving threatening notes and phone calls because of his involvement in the case, died in the car crash near downtown Phoenix. According to the medical examiner's report, High was legally drunk at the time of his death. The police said there was no indication of foul play. There was some suspicion that High committed suicide.
In late June, the Mesa ( Ariz.) Tribune obtained a copy of the police report on the investigations into drugs and gambling that authorities had refused to release. It showed that no NBA players had been solidly linked to any gambling activity and confirmed that investigators had almost no meaningful physical evidence to support the drug indictments.
Davis delivered another blow to the prosecution's case in July. Prosecutors had done an inadequate job of questioning Davis before the grand jury, failing to pin him down on dates, places and other details. When asked for some specifics by defense lawyers for some non-players involved in the case, Davis—in an unsworn statement—could not provide them. When asked by SI last week to explain what seemed to be inconsistencies in his story, Davis seemed puzzled. "I never changed anything," he insisted. He emphasized that he had not retracted any of his accounts about using drugs with teammates. "I went in and told the truth [to the grand jury]."
By last week 12 of the final total of 13 Waltergate defendants had either plea-bargained to reduce their sentences or had received suspended sentences, dismissals or deferred prosecutions. Edwards and Humphries admitted having once tried marijuana. Their sentences: participation in a drug counseling program for a year. Charges against Heard were dropped, and he's now an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks. Bratz, who lives in Sacramento, was never extradited to Arizona for trial. Charges against him were pending at the end of last week. Gondrezick pleaded guilty to tampering with a witness and received three years' probation. Terrence Patrick Kelly, a waiter at a restaurant frequented by the players, who was accused of supplying drugs to Davis and two other Suns, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and will be sentenced Dec. 2. Wynn Lesure, another reputed supplier, pleaded no contest on another conspiracy charge and will be sentenced Dec. 9.
Both Collins and Ortega have drawn criticism in the past for the way they've run their departments. Now they stand accused of having conducted a witch-hunt designed to further their own political ambitions. Humphries, who says he voluntarily took 23 drug tests this summer to try to clear his name, says, "Our reputations have been ruined."
None of the prosecutors will discuss specifics of the indictments until every case is settled, but Collins did address some broad questions last week. "If we'd had the information we had and not done anything—that's when we justifiably should've been roasted," he said.
Then Collins added: "I think if you were politically ambitious you might have been a lot more conservative than [to bring] the wide-open offense that was executed in this case."
Collins acknowledged that the investigation had "sort of bobbled along" and that "I would not try and tell anybody, as far as the prosecution aspect of this thing goes, that it's some work of beauty." Yet Collins defended his office, insisting that "given the information we had, we felt we made pretty good decisions. Circumstances change. People died. People changed their testimony.
"I guess our lesson in this is: We probably wouldn't in the future rely on somebody like [ Davis] to that extent, without independent corroboration. Clearly, we made some mistakes in assessing witnesses' credibility and character in staying with what they had said."