Judge moves Dennehy lawsuit from Houston to Waco

Updated: November 4, 2003, 7:09 PM ET
ESPN

HOUSTON -- A judge Monday granted Baylor University's request to have a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the father of slain Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy moved from Houston to Waco, the university's home.

State District Judge Bruce Oakley, a Baylor graduate, said he was moving the case "in the interest of justice" and to keep from inconveniencing potential witnesses.

Attorneys for defendants Drayton McLane, chairman of Baylor's Board of Regents, school president Robert Sloan, former athletic director Tom Stanton and former basketball coach Dave Bliss were among those present at a more than hour-long hearing. Defense attorneys argued the case should be moved to Waco because McLane, owner of baseball's Houston Astros, is not a permanent resident of Houston and Harris County. McLane is the lone defendant with ties to Harris County.

"Harris County, Texas, has got absolutely nothing to do with the facts and circumstances of this litigation," said attorney Stephen Dillard, who represented Sloan at the hearing. "McLennan County has everything to do with the facts and circumstances of this litigation."

Oakley rejected the argument that McLane, who leases an apartment in Houston, hadn't established a residence in the city where his team is based, but the judge accepted a second contention that holding the trial in Houston would inconvenience 65 witnesses, more than 50 of them from McLennan County, where Waco is the county seat.

"I think it would be quite burdensome for a number of those parties," the judge said, referring to the witnesses who live in Waco. "I am concerned about the convenience to the other defendants and witnesses should (McLane) be eliminated from the case."

"It makes it an away game instead of a home game," said Richard Laminack, lawyer for Patrick Dennehy Sr., father of the slain player, who filed the suit in August. "We have to go play on the defendant's home court."

Laminack said he believed a fair trial was possible in Waco but described Baylor as "a big, huge, powerful force in Waco, particularly in the legal community."

McLane's attorney, Wayne Fisher, said the decision was "no surprise to me," adding that McLane had no connection "to the unfortunate thing that happened to this young man."

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, alleges Dennehy was attempting to expose wrongdoing within the university's basketball program when "violent threats" were made against him leading up to his slaying.

Dennehy, 21, was missing about six weeks before his body was found July 25 near a gravel pit southeast of Waco. An autopsy determined he had been shot twice in the head.

Dennehy played two seasons for the New Mexico Lobos before transferring to Baylor in the spring of 2002.

His former teammate, Carlton Dotson, has said he is innocent. He remains jailed in Waco without bond after his arrest and extradition from his home state of Maryland.

Laminack contends Dennehy was killed by someone other than Dotson, but said Monday he couldn't give specifics. He said he has tried to indirectly inform law enforcement officials about what he has learned through private investigators and would like state authorities to pursue the findings.

In his lawsuit, Dennehy Sr. says his son became the target of violent threats after saying he might expose wrongdoing in the Baylor men's basketball program. The suit says the younger Dennehy was "lured to his death" by another player but does not identify the player.

Bliss resigned Aug. 8 after school investigators said he provided improper tuition payments for Dennehy and another player. A week later, assistant coach Abar Rouse gave university officials and the NCAA tapes of secretly recorded conversations in which Bliss told players to lie to investigators and say Dennehy paid his tuition by dealing drugs.

The elder Dennehy had little to do with his son until about four years ago when the pair attempted to rekindle their relationship, according to Dennehy's attorneys.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index