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What was extraordinary, then, about Aug. 20? The defense had another answer: By the time he got to practice, Max was already sick.
Here the medical experts fought to a draw. They argued over his white blood cells, his elevated lymphocytes, but it all came down to guesswork. The numbers neither proved nor disproved that he had a viral infection. They could be made to support either belief.
That left eyewitnesses, who were also problematic because of their vested interests in the outcome. Max's parents, who said he wasn't sick that day, were seeking more than $19 million in a wrongful-death suit. Some of Stinson's players, who said Max was dragging along and complaining that he didn't feel well, felt a powerful loyalty to their coach. Two girls who knew Max contradicted each other, even though they were best friends: One, who was friends with Max's mother at the time of the trial, said he had seemed all right at lunch; the other, whose parents openly supported Stinson, said Max was obviously sick after school.
The truth was in there somewhere.
The defense called Lois Gilpin.
You should know a few things about Lois, the stepmother who saw Max before school on the day of his collapse. She and Jeff Gilpin had gone through an unpleasant separation. A judge granted her a restraining order against him after she said Jeff had threatened to drag her out of the house by her hair. She was also attending Stinson's church, Valley View, and she had accepted $700 from its benevolence fund to help pay her mortgage.
But when a prosecutor suggested that Lois had pulled a new story out of thin air to help Stinson, there was evidence to suggest otherwise. Two days after Max was hospitalized, a doctor wrote in the record, "New history, that patient may not have been feeling well on day of collapse." Lois swore that her story had remained the same all along, and the doctor's note seemed to corroborate it.
This is the story Lois Gilpin told under oath about Max's last morning at home: "I asked him if he wanted juice. He was to take his medicine, his Adderall that morning. And he was cranky. And I leaned over and I kissed his head, and he told me he had a headache and he was sick and he was hot. Jeff walked in and told him, 'We're going to be late, you need to get up; you need to get your butt in gear and you need to get to school.'
"He just said he didn't feel good, he had a headache. He didn't talk back to his dad. You know, when I kissed him, I told him he was hot. You know, I imagine he would have liked to have stayed home. I wish he would have stayed home. But he did what his dad said."
Later, when he looked back at his son's last practice, Jeff Gilpin was filled with pride and wonder. "I underestimated this kid, big-time," he said. "His heart. Can you imagine the fortitude it took to keep running out there?"