In the eyes of this courtroom observer, here are a few of the missing links, listed with the understanding that everything could change starting Monday when the defense puts on the bulk of its witnesses and, after that, when both sides make their closing arguments.
Milton Kirk, Lynn LangÕs assistant coach at Trezevant High School, was not called by the prosecution. That strongly suggests that most of what Kirk ÒknowsÓ he knows because Lang told him or he fabricated it in his own mind. Lang testified that Kirk has a tendency to combine fact and Òimagination.Ó ItÕs interesting that KirkÕs imagination was good enough for The Commercial Appeal, which would have everyone believe that its heroic reporting got the ball rolling.
A journalist named Richard Ernsberger may have something to say about that next week if he testifies for the defense. ErnsbergerÕs book ÒBragging RightsÓ vividly described the Logan Young-Roy Adams feud and laid the groundwork for the Lynn Lang-Albert Means story a month before Kirk blabbed to The CA. The story that Lang told Ernsberger was differed in substance and detail from the one he eventually told federal prosecutors.
Lang, a hulk who looks like he wears a sport jacket two or three sizes bigger than fellow witnesses Means and pro football player Kindal Moorehead, is the cornerstone of the prosecution. He said Young Òtook it like waterÓ when Lang suggested an opening bid of $50,000 for the services of Means. The ÒnegotiationÓ proceeded to $150,000, although how it got there and why it stopped there were not explained under questioning by either the government or the defense. In fact, the rest of the evidence and LangÕs previous testimony to the NCAA and a federal grand jury indicates that $150,000 is, at best, an estimate culled from talking points that included cars, houses, and $291,000 in Young bank withdrawals.
If Young indeed Òtook it like waterÓ at 50 grand, then it is hard to see how he survived so long without being nailed. If he was the softest touch known to man, an admitted grifter such as Lang or his like at other schools would surely have spread the word. Why would Young offer $150,000 for Means and, so far as we know, nothing for Cortez Kennedy, who is from YoungÕs home town, Osceola, Arkansas? Kennedy was an All-American at Miami and all-pro with the Seattle Seahawks. Means couldnÕt carry his jock strap. So how did Young and Alabama miss him?
Means is one of the luckiest young men in America. He cheated to get into college by allowing someone else to take his entrance exam, lied about it under oath to a federal grand jury, and through one season at ÔBama and three more at University of Memphis, he was never penalized by anyone not wearing a striped shirt. Yes, he was poor, but so are millions of other high school graduates who take their own entrance exams and do not have the promise of a career in professional football. And despite being a surrogate father to Means, Lang could not accurately state the number of siblings Means has when asked about it last week on the witness stand.
Mal Moore, athletic director at the University of Alabama, testified very briefly for the prosecution. LetÕs assume that Moore knows far more than, say, the average well-informed Internet chat room participant about what actually goes on in Southeastern Conference football recruiting and AlabamaÕs biggest football fan, Logan Young. How much light did he shed on that subject? Almost none at all. He testified only that Young gave the athletic department an insurance policy and some legitimate contributions. Curiously, he said the university defines ÒboosterÓ as anyone who ever buys a ticket and attends an Alabama football game. Talk about Booster Nation! YoungÕs lawyers did not lay a glove on him, probably fearing the lines of questioning they might open up about their man.
Former Alabama assistant football coach Ivy Williams testified for the defense Friday and was simply dreadful, as even diehard Alabama spectators at the trial admitted. First he tried to parse, in the manner of Bill Clinton, the difference between a conversation initiated by the caller and the person taking the call. He squirmed pitifully on prosecutor Fred GodwinÕs cruel hook, admitting that one way or another he and Young talked more than 200 times but, supposedly, not about Means.
Jim Donnan, another defense witness who testified Friday, was not much better. He came across as aggressive and sore, but it soon became apparent that one of the things he is sore about is the fact that he is no longer head football coach at Georgia and, by todayÕs standards, was perhaps underpaid when he was a coach. Godwin asked him how much he was paid at Georgia, and the defense objected. But not before Donnan blurted out ÒNot enough.Ó Godwin was then allowed by the judge to get Donnan to divulge that in his final year at Georgia his total compensation was $700,000. This to a Memphis jury whose members may well earn in the neighborhood of $30,000 a year, give or take $20,000. This might be the only thing jurors recall about Mr. Ònot enough.Ó
Donnan opened up one potentially fruitful line of questioning when he said he visited Lang in Memphis and promptly determined that Lang Òhad his hand out.Ó That suggests Lang did indeed attempt to shake down at least seven big-time colleges and, therefore, could have gotten various bribes or slush money from people other than or in addition to Logan Young for his cars and strip-club visits before they dropped out of the auction.
The defense succeeded in making Lang out a liar in the past, but the government was ready to concede that anyway. The problem and, at the same time, the puzzle is that he alleges that he and Young met or spoke on the phone not a few times but scores of times. Young claims they never met during the period specified in the indictment. Chipping away at a stack of phone records, the defense made some headway but the jury was left with the evidence that Young and Lang were not strangers. On the other hand, if they met as often as Lang claims they did at YoungÕs home in an affluent Memphis neighborhood, it could strike the jury as strange that neighborhood gossips apparently made little of the black football coach hanging out with the known football fanatic in their neighborhood. Or at least not enough to agree to be called as a witness and testify to it in court.
One of LangÕs more telling evasions had nothing to do with Young. Under questioning by the defense, he admitted he had failed to reveal his felony plea and conviction to the Benton Harbor, Michigan school system where he is a teacher. He said he told the state on his certification but the not the county. In other words, after all the trouble heÕs been through, he still doesnÕt get it, even when it comes to something as important and verifiable as a job application.
In the battle of the lawyers, Godwin is more than holding his own against well-regarded veteran defense attorney Jim Neal. He got Lang on and off the stand without a game-ending injury, and his dissection of Williams and Donnan was brilliant. HeÕll bloody some more noses next week. His weakest witness was Lisa Mallory, an ex-girlfriend of Young who basically supported the defense line that Young likes to drink, brag, and throw money around and often bragged ÒheÕs mineÓ about players who did not wind up at Alabama.
In demeanor, Godwin, an ex-cop, is the smartest boy in class and every cop who ever gave you a speeding ticket for going 60 in a 55-mph zone, then told you to shut up ÒsirÓ when you asked why he stopped you. In a rare but telling slip, he laughed sarcastically after one of Judge Daniel BreenÕs ruling went against him, drawing a public spanking from Breen that was immensely satisfying to many courtroom observers. On his performance so far, Godwin deserves a B at least.
Neal gets an incomplete because he has yet to present most of his witnesses. Lang was still standing after cross-examination, and Williams seemed unprepared. Normally talkative, Neal has totally clammed up with the media during the trial and it isnÕt clear at half time exactly what his strategy will be in the second half. The defense motion to dismiss the charges because paying a coach to do anything except throw a game is not a crime had the look of a Hail Mary. Breen has already ruled against it once when it was briefed nearly a year ago. How significant this is itÕs impossible to say, but more than one attorney has noted to me that Neal said a week or so ago that Òwe have a client who says heÕs innocentÓ and going to trial. Emphasis on Òsays.Ó
Deep in the heart of Dixie, attorney Tommy Gallion of Montgomery, Alabama must be licking his chops in anticipation of hauling the NCAA and its investigators into court in June -- in Tuscaloosa, no less. Means clearly got kid-glove treatment for cooperating with the government, Mal Moore knows much more than he revealed last week, Kirk is an even bigger liar than Lynn Lang according to Lang, and a substantial amount of testimony to the NCAA regarding Alabama was apparently false. Even if Logan goes down, the Tide may yet roll over a few opponents and settle some old scores.
Third and Long at the Logan Young Trial
A Hail Mary pass to the judge is under review and defendant Logan Young is looking at third and long as the two sides take a weekend break in YoungÕs trial in federal court in Memphis.
Young is charged with bribery and conspiracy for allegedly paying $150,000 to football coach Lynn Lang to influence star lineman Albert Means to enroll at the University of Alabama. He has listened impassively all week at the defense table as the government presented its case and several old friends and foes testified.
On Friday, the defense put on its first two witnesses, former University of Georgia head football coach Jim Donnan and former Alabama assistant football coach and recruiter Ivy Williams. Much of FridayÕs session was taken up with discussion of a defense motion to dismiss the case because, in laymanÕs terms, what Young is accused of doing is not a crime.
Defense attorneys previously made the motion almost a year ago, and U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen ruled against it.
After the government completed its proof Thursday, defense attorney Robert Hutton made the motion again. That prompted U.S. Attorney Fred Godwin to get permission to put on one more government witness Friday. The witness was former Memphis City Schools Superintendent Johnnie B. Watson, who testified that Lang and his assistant coach Milton Kirk be fired after the Means story broke and Kirk pleaded guilty. Lang wound up resigning instead, while Kirk was suspended for a year and rehired.
The issue raised by Hutton is whether it is a federal crime to influence a teacher or coach to do something that does not impair his or her ability as a teacher or coach. Hutton used the example of paying a teacher to give a student an A as opposed to paying a teacher to tutor after hours
The defense will present the bulk of its case starting Monday. Donnan and Williams were allowed to testify Friday for logistical reasons. Current NFL player Kindal Moorehead also testified, but only out of the presence of the jury. It is not clear how his testimony will be used. Moorehead was recruited by Williams and went to Alabama.
Donnan was somewhat more effective than Williams. He testified that he met with Lang in Memphis and that Lang Òhad his hand outÓ for bribes and that Donnan walked out of the meeting and reported Lang to the NCAA. He also said Lang never told him the price for Means was $200,000, a figure widely tossed about by, among others, The Commercial Appeal, the daily newspaper in Memphis.
The ESPN analyst was in his fourth year as head coach at Georgia when his name came up in the Means case and he lost his job. He answered a firm ÒNoÓ when asked if he ever offered Lynn Lang any money to get Means to go to Georgia. He said the university gave Lang $500 for working at a football camp and Means $194 for expenses for a campus visit. Lang testified that Donnan himself paid him $700. After a discussion with the jury out of the courtroom, Godwin was allowed to ask Donnan in front of the jury how much money he made in his final year as a head coach. Donnan said his total compensation was $700,000. The implication was that Donnan had a lot of incentive to lie about the alleged $700.
Williams is now an assistant football coach at Savannah State College but formerly was in charge of recruiting for Alabama in the Memphis area. He recruited Albert Means in 1999. He testified that he met Lynn Lang in 1999 but did not tell him to get an impostor to take the ACT college entrance exam for Means as Lang has told others.
ÒI was told by Coach Lang that the young man was fully qualified,Ó he said.
Godwin questioned Williams about the frequency of his telephone contacts and personal contacts with Young. Williams told the NCAA in 2000 that he talked to Young 10-12 times but later told a grand jury he talked to Young more than 200 times. Williams tried to argue that there is a difference between talking to someone who calls you and calling someone yourself.
Godwin also brought out that Williams and Young talked by phone for ten minutes in January at about the time Means visited Alabama. Williams and Young also had dinner together before Means signed with Alabama.
ÒDid you discuss the recruiting of Albert Means?Ó Godwin asked.
ÒNo,Ó Williams replied.
Starting Monday, the defense will present witnesses to discredit Lang and other government witnesses. The mysterious Melvin Ernest, also known as ÒBotto,Ó could make his first appearance. ÒBottoÓ is a former football coach and high-school hanger-on who allegedly drove Lang to meet with Young and acted as middleman between Young and other coaches.
Other witnesses are likely to include current and former high school and college football coaches. The prosecution was able to introduce testimony about former Melrose football coach Tim Thompson and his ties to Young, so the defense may also want to deal with that.
The government did not call either ÒBottoÓ or Milton Kirk or anyone from the NCAA. Lang admitted on the stand telling different versions of his story to the NCAA and, initially, to federal prosecutors. Because of his deal to change his plea to guilty, he faces five years in prison instead of the theoretical 135 years in the original charges.
Super Bowl of Sleaze
The star witness, Lynn Lang, is a cheater, a liar, and a greedy exploiter of high school athletes. And that's the assessment of the prosecutor. The defendant, Logan Young Jr., is a braggart with an adolescent fixation on college football who drinks too much, talks too much, and gambles away money like it's paper. And that's according to his own attorneys.
And the star player, Albert Means, was so academically unqualified that he had to get someone else to take his college entrance exam, so dishonest that he lied about it to a federal grand jury, and so valuable that he was allowed to play four years of college football anyway without a single sanction.
Welcome to the United States of America v. Logan Young Jr., the Super Bowl of Sleaze.
"There are no heroes in this case," U.S. attorney Fred Godwin told jurors in his opening remarks.
No kidding. Whatever the outcome, the trial is likely to be remembered for two catch phrases. The first is Young's chest-thumping "He's mine!," supposedly spoken in regard to getting Means to attend the University of Alabama for the price of $150,000, payable to Lang. The other is the alliterative "Lynn Lang's lies," the cornerstone of Young's defense by lawyer Jim Neal.
Godwin, who has been on the case for four years, wasted no time laying out his line of attack in opening remarks. He practically leaped to his feet, took a few quick steps toward the jury of seven women and five men, and thundered, "This case is about the buying and selling of a young man by men who had no right to do so," and then pointing at Young, who sat at the defense table.
The first three witnesses Alabama athletic director Mal Moore, Young's ex-girlfriend Lisa Mallory, and Means established that Young worships the late Bear Bryant, gave liberally to the Alabama athletic department, drinks like a fish, and likes to holler "Roll Tide." Mallory, who met Young while working as his interior designer, testified about his heroic drinking and "He's mine!" boast, but under cross-examination agreed that he made the same claim about athletes who enrolled at schools other than Alabama. She said it was not uncommon for him to wave around wads of cash, especially when he was gambling or on a football weekend.
Means testified that Lang guided his football decisions throughout high school and often gave him spending money or gifts. He said Lang steered him to Alabama although Means liked Arkansas and Kentucky better. He said he never met or talked to Logan Young in his life. And he admitted that he never took the ACT college entrance exam but told a federal grand jury that he did.
"I was afraid," he said. "I thought it probably would affect my education."
Jurors will also hear from middleman Melvin Ernest, nicknamed "Botto," who supposedly brought Lang to Young's house in 1999, remaining downstairs while Lang and Young went upstairs to talk business. Godwin said Lang will testify that their meetings always included just the two of them "because then it's your word against mine that this ever happened."
According to Godwin, Young made 64 cash withdrawals, each for less than $10,000 to avoid IRS reporting, with $150,000 finding its way to Lang over a period of several months. Godwin promised to present "some interesting coincidences" about the timing of Young's withdrawals and Lang's bank deposits.
"Follow the money," Godwin told the jury in summation.
In his opening remarks to the jury, Neal indicated that he will essentially be putting Lang on trial.
"There is no way you will believe the government's chief witness and certainly no way you will believe Lynn Lang beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. He noted inconsistencies in Lang's story as told to journalists, Memphis attorney Bill Wade, Memphis City Schools officials, federal prosecutors, and the NCAA. He said jurors will hear contradictory testimony from former University of Memphis head football coach Rip Scherer and former Georgia coach Jim Donnan, among others.
Neal suggested that Lang pled guilty because he was facing up to 135 years in prison on the original charges. He said testimony will show that Lang skimmed money from events at Trezevant High School and summer football camps when he was a coach and had to be ordered by a court to make child-support payments when he was supposedly "awash in money.
On Tuesday, prosecutors lost an attempt to introduce testimony alleging that Young also paid former Melrose football coach Tim Thompson to get star player Kindal Moorehead to attend Alabama.