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Friday, August 1, 2003
Updated: August 5, 11:14 PM ET
Two dreams die in Waco

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

Self-defense, or self-deluded?

Let's pick up the story where a fine young female intern, 21, more or less, named Shani George is sent by the Dallas Morning News to see if she could talk to Carlton Dotson in lock-up, get anything out of him about the killing of Patrick Dennehy. Now they don't tell you how, if you're Shani George in that situation. They just say go, and either you can get it or you can't. So I have no problem with Shani George getting her "get" by being identified as a Christian, or intern for the Dallas Morning News, or both, or neither. Makes no difference. I did notice she was cute.

Carlton Dotson
Carlton Dotson reportedly will claim that the killing of Patrick Dennehy was self-defense.
I think Carlton Dotson was supposed to notice it too.

Apparently, he did notice. So he ain't that crazy.

Not so crazy he's blind.

Dotson spoke to Ms. George, and that's how we know Dotson says, and for all we know believes, that he actually acted in self-defense when he allegedly shot his best friend Patrick Dennehy in the head, not once, as a reflex, but multiple times. Then Dennehy was decapitated -- unless his corpse was set upon later by a particularly ravenous armadillo in the six weeks it took to find the body, which was just off the main road extended running to the Baylor University campus.

Dotson says it was an act of self-defense.

Well, this crime was act of self-something.

Self-loathing. Self-delusion. Self-denial. All about me.

It adds up to one dead man gone, another one walking.

Carlton Dotson told Shani George that if somebody drew down on you with a piece, then pulled the trigger, and it didn't fire, or misfired, what would you do? He reportedly said if somebody was loading a gun with bullets while pointing it at you, what would you do? So. Dotson's not so crazy that he doesn't portray himself like some reluctant gunfighter, like Shane, or Tom Horn.

Is he telling the truth? If he isn't, like in "Tom Horn," it's the greatest shot he ever made, and the dirtiest trick he ever pulled. Now, Dotson doesn't say if it was self-defense later, when he didn't go tell what happened, but instead allegedly drove Dennehy's SUV 1,200 miles to near his home in rural Maryland, then tried to dump it by just removing the license plate and crossing a state line into Virginia. He began yapping to locals, including the constabulary. He might have left someone "self-defended," or maybe dead, in a gravel pit.

Yep, some of Carlton Dotson's actions say he might be crazy. I have little doubt that he is. Perhaps he made himself crazy. I also have little doubt that this killing was not self-defense. What it is in Dotson's mind, I can't say, and frankly don't care. It's a Killing.

There's a double-tap gunshot entry wound, minimum, to Dennehy's skull. This much the Waco police have said. There might be more. Two is enough. Two implies intent. One shot in the head could be an accident. Two isn't.

Dennehy
Patrick Dennehy was a young man who had a lot going for him.
They don't say where the slugs entered. That's the D.A.'s call, probably. Once we know entry wound locations, or whether or not there are powder burns around the entry wounds, that tells us a lot. If the entry wounds are in the back of the head, rule out self-defense. That's more like execution. If the entry wounds are skin-contact in the temple or toward the rear -- say, behind the ear -- that's not self-defense. That's more like murder. If entry wounds are in the front, then Dotson at least can get a hearing on his version of events.

But how then did the head become separated from the body, anyway?

Even worse, why are we concentrating more on items like Shani George's get, or whether or not Baylor gave Dennehy a sausage sandwich, or some help in paying for a car, which breaks some NCAA rules, or if some of the Baylor players ever smoked reefer, or if Baylor coach Dave Bliss is in trouble and gets to keep his job? What does any of it matter to Dennehy? Look, the kid's dead, for God's sake. None of that means anything to him.

I've heard it said, in the two months of limbo since Patrick Dennehy was shot in the head that Dennehy wasn't that much of a player. If he was getting "special treatment," what are big-time D-1 players getting?

Who cares? As if this made Dennehy any less dead.

I'm here not to concentrate on NCAA violations, or Dave Bliss's future prospects, or Dennehy's lack of NBA potential. Let's concentrate on the dead part. Let's concentrate on Patrick Dennehy, the dead spot he leaves in the people he left behind, the future he'll never have. It's the least we can do. Because from all I've been able to ascertain from a distance, Patrick Dennehy had a lot more going for him than whether or not he could ball. As opposed to Carlton Dotson, who had nothing else. Except maybe a motive.

Dennehy seemed to have outstanding human potential. You could tell some of this when you saw his mother, patient, strong, enduring, somehow. You saw the love. You saw Dennehy's capacity for love in her, through her. You could begin to make an emotional composite. I've seen black mothers like that. Not all of them can stay so composed, that hopeful, that steadfast and within herself, in that situation. I saw Dennehy's potential in his stepfather, too, who loved his mother, took on her child as his own, though he was a white man; that said even more for his internal makeup.

They first suspected something was wrong because Dennehy did not call home for Father's Day. He was that kind of kid. Most of us in college only call home for money.

You saw how easily the family capitulated and then handled the media firestorm, when some families reveal an embarrassing lack of human grace and dignity in those situations, understandably so. Can you guarantee you wouldn't have fallen apart, if it had been your son or daughter? I saw poise and patience in his girlfriend Jessica De La Rosa, a model of decorum and cooperation and respect to the dead man's kin throughout this surreal ordeal. How she behaved told me a lot about Patrick Dennehy. I can hear some in the squad room saying Jessica De La Rosa had gotten hotter since she'd started going on-air to help media report on the investigation. Then I heard it agreed to, that she had, and that she is sure available now. I can hear the chuckles.

Dennehy's family
Dennehy's girlfriend, center, and family members have remained very strong throughout this entire ordeal.
I admit, it makes me a little hot, only in a different way. Mad about this crime. Because it didn't have to be.

I don't think Dotson was so crazy that he didn't notice Dennehy had everything he didn't have, and probably never would. Dotson's dream was done. How dare Dennehy live his? Self-defense is a good motive to off somebody you deeply, profoundly, possibly unconsciously resent anyway. People can say I'm not giving Carlton Dotson the benefit of the doubt. They don't pay me to give Dotson the benefit of the doubt. I'm not a lawyer or juror. They pay me to get to the bottom, reveal human nature through the prism of sports, maybe break off something to make you smile. I know. This doesn't. Bear with me. I'm trying to make sense of this thing too, with the means I have at hand.

Dotson had to defend himself from what? Himself?

Why would Patrick Dennehy have reason to be even playfully vengeful, to a point of going against everything he was, handling a gun carelessly, when, apparently he'd never handled a handgun before, cavalierly pointing a gun at a guy whom he was basically supporting emotionally? How could he not see what Dotson's ex-mother-in-law saw? The hearing of voices, the delusions of grandeur. How could Dennehy not see this budding psychotic break? Unless he actually didn't see it. Unless it was hidden from him.

Dennehy had his parents, he had his big whip SUV (however he got it is irrelevant to his death, but the fact that he had it might not be). He had his scholarship at Baylor. He was smart. He was likeable. People noticed him. Women desired him. He had contacts all over. It was reported his father said he wasn't going to play for Baylor this season, which Bliss denies, but he still had the scholarship either way. He had that smart, beautiful girlfriend (being smart makes the pretty ones beautiful) in Albuquerque, and Dotson met her, too. Dennehy shared his life with Dotson, but the real important stuff, he couldn't share. Dennehy was quick, popular, had all kinds of other friends, none of whom has said a bad word about him in the post-mortem.

In short, Dennehy had everything Dotson did not have.

Iago didn't have this much to resent. Othello wasn't this blind.

Carlton Dotson had no car, no money, no future at Baylor; his scholarship had been revoked; his wife cut short their brief union in part because Dotson was "hearing voices," according to his ex-mother-in-law, who reported this to Baylor coaches. In fact, Dotson had seen a psychiatrist. He had no reason to stay in Waco. He was on his own. All he had to do was go home. But there he had no future. So he stayed in Waco, to hang out with Dennehy.

And Dennehy let him. Why? Dotty had no place else to go. Except insane.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it quietly go away? Or does it explode?

Why Dennehy didn't put all this together himself, that's what we can't ever know. A lack of life experience is the only answer there. His naiveté surely cost him his life either way. Denney knew Dotson was divorced, had lost his scholarship, had no ride, no money, and had been tossed out of school. He knew he had no future there. Still, because he was the kind of person he was, Dennehy supported him. It would've been so easy to cut him loose.

Instead, "Harvey" was set loose. Now, Harvey could be anybody from a fictional rabbit, to a new scholarship player at Baylor, another young nomad, looking for his shot. He could be seen to have taken Dotson's scholarship, if you wanted to look at it that way. But "Harvey" could've also been Dotson!

Dennehy ended up telling people, including De La Rosa, his parents and some other friends and coaches, that he was being threatened. His and Dotson's rooms were being ransacked, and stuff was being stolen from him, or them. They were getting guns to defend themselves against ... whom? Who did those things?

Finally, Dennehy and Dotson did the thing that many fearful people do, and ended up at the same unintended place, at least from one end; they got handguns. Dennehy got them. Dotson had nothing to get them with, save that peculiar station he had so briefly enjoyed that goes along with being a scholarship athlete at a revenue producing sport (football or basketball) at a major American university; you get just enough rope to hang yourself.

Patrick Dennehy
Dennehy started his college career at New Mexico before transferring to Baylor.
Dotson allegedly shot Dennehy, he says, to "defend himself" against Dennehy; this while they practiced shooting, to "defend themselves" against "Harvey."

But now, who will defend Dotson against ... Dotson?

It's his word against a dead man's.

Sometimes, dead men do tell tales.

Where were the slug entry points?

Were there any powder burns?

How did Dennehy's head get decapitated?

For even if your best friend and benefactor, did point an unloaded gun at you (the piece the cops found at the scene was reportedly unloaded), what you do is you get out of the line of fire, and you say, "Never point that at me again."

You don't shoot your best friend in the head. Not multiple times.

Not unless, deep down somewhere, you really want to.

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."