But Miller neither
finished school nor left town, and on an evening in late June of last year he
got a call from John LeBrum, a former Montana State defensive back, who wanted
a ride to a Perkins restaurant. Miller picked him up, and when the two men,
then both 22, got to Perkins, they spotted the black Chevrolet Tahoe of Jason
Wright, 26, a restaurant worker and coach of a local American Legion baseball
team, who police would later learn was also dealing cocaine. According to
statements Miller would eventually make to the police, when Wright emerged from
the restaurant, the 5' 11", 175-pound LeBrum, who was wearing gloves,
rushed toward him and punched him in the head, knocking him to the ground.
LeBrum, a Fort
Lauderdale native who was suspended from the Montana State team in the fall of
his first season (2003) and dismissed the following spring for undisclosed
disciplinary reasons, had previously shown the damage he could do with a single
blow. In October 2005 he punched a player who blocked his shot during a pickup
basketball game on campus, shattering the man's jaw. LeBrum was convicted of
felony criminal endangerment, handed a six-year deferred prison term and
ordered to pay nearly $35,000 in restitution.
Miller told police
that LeBrum loaded Wright into Wright's Tahoe and drove west on Huffine Lane.
An unnamed witness told police that around 3 a.m. an agitated and scared
Caucasian with blondish hair who the witness was "100 percent" certain
was Wright tried to flag down the witness's car on a street off of Huffine. The
following afternoon Wright's body was found in a nearby field. An examination
found several blunt-force-trauma injuries and multiple gunshot wounds.
investigated, they found "pays and owes" sheets at Wright's apartment.
Then James Clark, a Bobcats assistant basketball coach, informed police that
Miller had several handguns and Wright's I.D. card. Police later found those
items--including a gun that police told the
( Mont.) News was the same
caliber as the shell casings found near Wright's body--in another basketball
player's locker at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. LeBrum and Miller were arrested on
June�29, 2006, and charged with aggravated kidnapping, tampering with
evidence and deliberate homicide. Both men have pleaded not guilty in the
News of the
arrests shook Bozeman and left Montana State fans feeling violated. The teams,
especially football, are well supported by the denizens of Gallatin County. A
Bobcats victory, such as last year's 19-10 upset of Colorado in the opener,
fosters pride and unites the southwestern portion of the state like little
else. Jeff Welsch, the sports editor of the Chronicle, heard about LeBrum and
Miller while on his drive back after fly-fishing on the upper Yellowstone
River. In the following Sunday paper he wrote, "Murder. Kidnapping.
Cocaine. Here. In Paradise. It's all so incongruous, so spiritually bankrupt,
so very wrong."
Montana State's president, is short and bespectacled, with a neatly trimmed
beard. He played defensive back for a year at Fresno State and has a doctorate
in linguistics from Cal. Gamble, 65, came to Bozeman seven years ago after
serving as senior vice president and provost at Vermont, where a hazing scandal
involving the hockey team in 1999 drew national attention. He acknowledges that
Montana State could have done more to prevent its athletic department from
embarrassing the school and straining relations with the town. Most notably,
says Gamble, "we should not have been bringing in recruits who had little
or no chance of succeeding academically and socially."
Yet according to a
report compiled last February by a panel of independent investigators hired by
the school, the Bobcats had been doing just that for years. Investigators found
that the football program had almost total autonomy in getting recruits
admitted and that it was "prioritizing the team's competitive needs without
full consideration of the academic impact" of taking large numbers of
transfers. The report scolded the program for its low APR, which under NCAA
guidelines caused the loss of three scholarships for the coming season. The
basketball program was spared direct criticism, but the entire athletic
department was cited for failing to properly review the academic credentials of
incoming athletes, among other shortcomings.
When the report
came out, Gamble said there was little in it he didn't already know, and
athletic director Peter Fields likened it to a financial audit. Both heaped
praise on Kramer, with Gamble citing his "integrity." Their stance
changed, however, when Rick Gatewood was arrested and charged with conspiracy
to distribute cocaine and distribution of cocaine. Police linked the rise in
cocaine use in Montana to the birth of Gatewood's alleged drug operation,
having seized more of the drug in the past two years than in the previous seven
years combined. "We didn't have a cocaine problem in Montana 20 months
ago," says Lieut. Dan Springer, commander of the Missouri River Drug Task
pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell cocaine on July 26 and will be sentenced
in November; a charge of conspiracy possession is pending. Rick has a Sept. 17
court date and has pleaded not guilty. Law enforcement officials in Gallatin
County have declined to comment on a link between Wright's murder and the drug
ring. However, Miller and LeBrum allegedly joined with Randy Gatewood in a
fight outside a downtown bar six days before Wright's murder. Gatewood has been
charged with two misdemeanor counts of assault, but police say Miller and
LeBrum could also face charges.
The team's leading
pass catcher in 2004 and '05, Rick Gatewood graduated with a degree in
psychology last year and was well liked by teammates, coaches and
administrators. His arrest forced the school to stop selling the idea that a
few random incidents had besmirched an otherwise model athletic department. On
May 18, Fields fired Kramer, citing "a crisis in leadership." Kramer
promptly hired a lawyer and threatened to sue the school for wrongful
termination. "[The firing] was done by people who were covering their own
backsides," said Kramer's attorney, Cliff Edwards.