Police: Montana player may have witnessed shooting, not cooperating

Updated: June 22, 2007, 11:33 AM ET
Associated Press

MISSOULA, Mont. -- A University of Montana football player apparently was a witness when teammate Jimmy Wilson allegedly shot a man to death earlier this month, but isn't cooperating with investigators, a Los Angeles County sheriff's detective said.

"Another player was there, Qwenton Freeman, but he wasn't too cooperative," Sgt. Steve Rubino told the Missoulian on Thursday.

School officials continue to decline comment on the case.

Rubino and other investigators traveled to Missoula this week to question UM football players about the June 2 shooting death of Kevin Smoot, 29, of Lancaster, Calif.

Wilson, 20, was scheduled for arraignment Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, but the hearing was continued until July 9. He remains jailed on $2 million bail.

Rubino said investigators were following up on leads they received from witnesses in California -- and to interview players on UM's football team.

"It left a bad taste in our mouth that the players wouldn't cooperate with us. If it was on the other foot and their teammate got killed, they would be really forthcoming," said Rubino, who returned to Los Angeles on Wednesday night. "Someone got murdered here and we're just looking for some cooperation."

The Missoulian was unable to locate Freeman for a comment on the murder investigation.

UM executive vice president Jim Foley would not comment on Freeman's status on the football team, or about UM football players' unwillingness to cooperate with the Los Angeles homicide investigators.

"Officially, we're not going to comment on an ongoing criminal matter that's in the California criminal courts. Period," Foley said.

UM football coach Bobby Hauck and athletics director Jim O'Day did not return repeated phone calls from the Missoulian seeking comment.

Grizzly football players are on orders not to talk to the media.

On Thursday, Rubino said the Los Angeles County homicide bureau is continuing its investigation into Smoot's death, but did not know how investigators will address Freeman's refusal to cooperate.

"It could happen where he's taken into custody. Or he could become a witness. Or it could turn out another way. We might come back to Missoula down the line," Rubino said.

According to records filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Wilson was involved in an altercation between Smoot and Smoot's girlfriend, who is Wilson's aunt. Wilson allegedly went to Smoot's home on June 2 and shot him with a rifle.

"The aunt and victim were having a domestic dispute, and she ended up making a phone call to Jimmy," Rubino said of the allegations. "He apparently came over to be a so-called 'peacekeeper' and showed up with a rifle."

After the shooting, Wilson allegedly fled the scene and later traveled back to Missoula for summer football conditioning.

Authorities are still searching for the gun, which Rubino initially suspected might be in Missoula. Investigators were also following up on other "items of concern" in town, though Rubino wouldn't elaborate.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press