Judge throws out most of suit

Updated: February 6, 2004, 3:25 PM ET
Associated Press

WACO, Texas -- A judge on Friday threw out most of the wrongful death lawsuit filed against Baylor University by the father of a basketball player who was gunned down last summer.

Patrick Dennehy Sr. sought unspecified damages in his suit, which claims his son became the target of "violent threats" because he intended to expose wrongdoing in the basketball program and that Baylor ignored his requests for help.

Lawyers for most defendants -- including Baylor's president Robert Sloan, former athletic director Tom Stanton and former basketball coach Dave Bliss -- filed motions last month to have the case thrown out.

In issuing the ruling Friday, state District Judge Ralph Strother said Baylor could not have foreseen the slaying of Patrick Dennehy Jr., whose body was found in a field near the Waco campus last year. A former teammate has been charged with murder.

Dennehy played two seasons for the New Mexico Lobos before transferring to Baylor in the spring of 2002. Bliss is a former Lobos coach.

Six of the lawsuit's seven claims were thrown out, including allegations of wrongful death and gross negligence. Strother said he would give the plaintiff's attorneys two weeks to provide more evidence on the remaining claim, which accuses Baylor and the other defendants of "intentionally, knowingly or recklessly" causing Dennehy's death.

Wayne Fisher, an attorney for Baylor and its board of regents, had argued the case was similar to a Fort Worth case in which some TCU athletes assaulted a student off campus. That lawsuit against TCU was thrown out.

"How in the world could a university either control, supervise or discipline an adult student off-campus? ... Where would that duty end?" he said.

Richard Laminack, a lawyer for Patrick Dennehy Sr., has contended that the athlete was killed by someone other than Dotson but has not elaborated.

He said Friday that a group of Baylor basketball players and students threatened and intimidated the younger Dennehy, trying to stop him from reporting NCAA violations: that his tuition was being paid although his scholarship had been given to another player.

"I wish it was as simple as Pat Dennehy's best friend in the world woke up one morning in a vacuum and decided to murder his friend," Laminack said.

During the hearing, the judge said he was unclear about some of the plaintiff's allegations.

"Are you saying that Baylor had him killed?" Strother asked.

"No. I'm saying he died as a result of Baylor's conduct," Laminack replied.

The suit claimed that Baylor hired Bliss although he had been investigated for possible NCAA violations when he coached at SMU and New Mexico. When such violations happened at Baylor, the staff took steps to conceal the wrongdoing, according to the suit.

"Coach Bliss' very presence at Baylor created an unsafe atmosphere for the student athletes and ultimately led to the murder of Patrick Dennehy Jr.," the lawsuit states.

The 21-year-old Dennehy, had been missing about six weeks when his body was found in July in a field near a rock quarry a few miles from the Waco campus. He had been shot twice in the head, according to an autopsy.

His former teammate and roommate, Carlton Dotson, 21, was charged with murder and remains jailed in Waco awaiting trial.

Dotson told authorities that he fired the gun after Dennehy tried to shoot him, according to court documents. After Dotson was arrested in his home state of Maryland, he denied that he confessed. The lawsuit claims the younger Dennehy was "lured to his death" by another player but does not identify the player.

After Dennehy disappeared, allegations of NCAA violations surfaced at Baylor, the world's largest Baptist university. Bliss and Stanton resigned in August amid revelations that improper tuition payments were made to the younger Dennehy and another player.

Patrick Dennehy Sr., who lives in Tacoma, Wash., had not seen his son since he was 2 but tried to rekindle the relationship several years ago, according to the suit.

Patrick Dennehy Sr. originally filed the suit in Houston, but the case was moved to Waco in November. Baylor Board of Regents Chairman Drayton McLane, owner of the Houston Astros baseball team, was the lone defendant with ties to Houston.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press