DeLone on trial for assaulting OU Ruf/Nek

Updated: May 4, 2005, 3:01 PM ET
Associated Press

NORMAN, Okla. -- A 12-member jury began deliberating Wednesday the guilt or innocence of former Nebraska football player Darren DeLone after a prosecutor urged them to convict DeLone of assault for slamming into an Oklahoma spirit squad member.

But District Attorney Tim Kuykendall told DeLone's jurors that he would not recommend whether they sentence him to prison for slamming into Ruf/Nek member Adam Merritt on Nov. 13 prior to the Nebraska-Oklahoma game.

"I'm not asking you to send him to prison for five years," Kuykendall said during his closing argument. "If you don't want to send him to prison at all, you don't have to."

DeLone, 23, is charged with aggravated assault and battery, a felony. He has pleaded innocent. The charge is punishable by up to five years in prison, up to one year in the county jail or a $500 fine.

DeLone's defense attorney, Garvin Isaacs, said that the former Nebraska offensive lineman was "wrongfully accused" and that the injuries suffered by Merritt were accidental.

"He's an innocent man," Isaacs said, pointing to DeLone in the Cleveland County courtroom. Members of DeLone's family were also present.

"No crime was committed by anybody. It was a pure and complete accident," Isaacs said.

DeLone's jury began deliberating a verdict at 12:35 p.m. following four hours of closing arguments and instructions from District Judge William C. Hetherington Jr.

The arguments lasted long enough that the Norman police department towed away Isaacs' pickup truck and the car of his law partner, Nancy Zerr, because they had parked for longer than the one hour permitted by meters outside the courthouse.

Isaacs said inconsistencies among witnesses in the case could result in a travesty of justice.

"This is one of the most frightening cases that I've ever seen in my life," Isaacs said.

He said testimony from prosecution witnesses were based on "suggestion and guesswork."

Prosecutors allege that DeLone, who did not testify in his own defense, deliberately ran into Merritt, 19, after verbal sparring between Nebraska players and Ruf/Neks. Kuykendall said eight prosecution witnesses testified that a player wearing DeLone's number, 67, appeared to deliberately strike Merritt during blocking drills along the sidelines near the end zone of Owen Field.

"Eight people who were positive. Eight people who were unequivocal in their identification," Kuykendall said.

Kuykendall said that the collision occurred after DeLone, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound lineman, allegedly pointed toward the Ruf/Neks and engaged in "trash-talking" with one of them.

"Thirty seconds later, wham!" Kuykendall said as he shoved his fist into his open hand. "He's knocked against the wall. He's got two teeth on the ground."

Merritt lost one tooth in the collision and had another one severed at the gum line.

Isaacs recalled the testimony of defense witnesses who said there was no taunting between players and Ruf/Neks.

"It is the figment of the imagination of some people," Isaacs said.

Isaacs argued that Merritt was injured because he was not paying attention to what was happening on the field.

"We all wish this hadn't happened," Isaacs said, speaking to Merritt, who was sitting in the courtroom. "But there was no intent on the part of any player to hurt him."

Isaacs said the collision was an accident and that another player hit Merritt.

"The football field is for the players, it's not for the Ruf/Neks," Isaacs said.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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