by Dan Johnson
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 hourrs/p>
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.