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OU spirit group member injured in fracas

2/25/2005

NORMAN, Okla. -- Former Nebraska football player Darren
DeLone will be tried on a charge that he assaulted a University of
Oklahoma spirit squad member before the Cornhuskers' game at
Oklahoma last season, a judge decided in a preliminary hearing
Friday.

Cleveland County District Judge Michael Hetherington Jr. entered
an innocent plea for DeLone and set an April 4 pre-trial hearing.

Four witnesses testified during the hearing, including Adam
Merritt, the University of Oklahoma spirit group member who was
injured in the Nov. 13 incident. DeLone didn't testify.

Merritt, 19, testified that he temporarily lost consciousness
after he was hit and woke up to discover he was missing teeth.

"I looked up only to see a hand coming toward my face and I
woke up against a brick wall with a very sore head and back and no
teeth in my mouth," Merritt said.

One of Merritt's front teeth was knocked out, and another front
tooth was broken in the Nov. 13 incident, according to testimony
from Merritt and endodontist Steven Powell, who examined him two
days after the game.

Merritt is a member of the Oklahoma Ruf/Neks spirit group that
leads cheers and accompanies the Sooner Schooner covered wagon on
Owen Field. They shoot ceremonial shotguns without live ammunition
and sometimes heckle opposing teams.

Another Ruf/Neks member, Zachary Decker, testified that a
Nebraska player wearing number 67 made a threatening gesture before
the incident by drawing his thumb across his throat, and the same
player charged and hit Merritt. DeLone wore number 67.

"He was running fast and right at us, pretty much a sprint,"
Decker said.

The player hit Merritt with an open fist, pushed him against a
brick wall, walked away cussing and then resumed his drills, Decker
testified.

Merritt said that immediately before he was hit, he was talking
to two other members of the Ruf/Neks spirit group and that he
thought they were joking about a player coming at him. Both
freshmen said they were standing in a designated area in the
northeast corner of Memorial Stadium intended to keep them safe
from contact with players.

Decker testified that the Ruf/Neks discourage members from
heckling the opposing team, and he did not hear anyone heckle
Nebraska players prior to the incident.

"They don't want those types of incidents happening," Decker
said. "That makes us look bad."

Defense attorney Garvin Isaacs asked Merritt if his injuries
could have been the result of an accident since the players were
practicing at a high speed on grass dampened by the rain.

"As I woke up I realized that what had happened was not an
accident," Merritt said. "There is no way that I can see this
being an accident."

Isaacs also questioned Merritt and Decker about their testimony
that they had seen the hands of the attacker. Isaacs claimed that
DeLone, 23, had been -- and always does -- wear gloves when he is on
the field.

A University of Oklahoma police detective, John Bishop, also
testified about questioning DeLone after the game. Isaacs
introduced as evidence the written statement DeLone gave Bishop in
which the football player claimed he was doing regular drills when
someone accidentally got hurt.

"There was no intention to do so," DeLone wrote in the
statement.

DeLone, an offensive lineman listed at 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds,
finished his senior season with the Cornhuskers last year. The next
hearing in his case was scheduled for April 4, when he can decide
whether he wants a jury trial. At that point, a trial date may be
set.

The felony charge against him carries a maximum penalty of five
years in prison.