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Wrongful death suit will be in Waco

11/4/2003 - Baylor Bears

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.

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.