So much fuss. So many months spent preparing for, and thinking about, what came to a conclusion Wednesday night pretty much where it began: the Prince George's County Courthouse. The former county state's attorney stirred our attention from the courthouse steps. Dozens of witnesses, almost a televised parade, trooped inside at various times -- and to what end? We're still not sure who provided the cocaine that killed Len Bias.
Probably, only members of the Bias family truly want to continue pursuit of that fact. They experienced the best of Len, and recently heard the worst. Most everybody else long since has accepted him as a remarkable athlete and vulnerable young man. All the revelations in courtroom 202 have done is heighten our sadness.
The judicial scorecard reads: one indictment, no conviction. The errors, or at least the perceived mistakes, come in the form of questions. Why was Arthur Marshall, the state's attorney for Prince George's County when Bias died, so hot about a case apparently filled with so many holes? After hints of wrongdoing by three men at least sometimes in public view, Lefty Driesell, Lee Fentress and Bob Wagner, only a comet of a celebrity, Brian Tribble, was brought to trial.
And Tribble bounded away free, not guilty even of possession of cocaine. Hell, according to the testimony, everybody in Terry Long's room in Washington Hall had the stuff in the early morning hours of June 19: Long, David Gregg, Bias and Tribble. Under immunity, former teammates Long and Gregg testified about most of the specifics..
But Maryland law requires that testimony such as Long's and Gregg's be corroborated. It was not. And when the defense attorney, Thomas C. Morrow, asked Long and Gregg whether they actually saw Tribble bring the cocaine into the dorm, each answered no. Driesell testified that Long told him, a few hours after Bias was pronounced dead, that Tribble supplied the cocaine; the jury was instructed to disregard that as hearsay.
Driesell shared the part of public opinion that tied Bias's reputation to Tribble's verdict, saying: "I personally thought the trial and his being found innocent sort of helps Len Bias." Others felt the opposite, that Tribble being found not guilty placed blame squarely on Bias. I'm inclined toward the latter view.
Tribble's fate mostly hinged on a self-described cocaine dealer only recently judged an adult by the court system, 17-year-old Terrence Anthony Moore. The jury wasn't buying Moore's account of business with Tribble, sales amounting to nearly $4,000 every few days. Couldn't the prosecution uncover somebody else, if Tribble were such a major supplier?
Marshall began suggesting spicy scenarios about the time Bias was being buried. A grand jury dismissed most of them; now a jury has tossed most of the remaining aside. In between, voters replaced Marshall.
When it suited their purposes, both the prosecution and defense painted a distorted sketch of Bias.
"It wasn't the defense that defamed Len Bias over the last week," said the Bias family attorney, Wayne Curry, who has suggested the possibility of a lawsuit but has not mentioned where it might be directed. The family is known to be angry that an examination of Len's nose apparently was not performed and that lie detector tests were not administered.
Curry added: "Had Len Bias been here to defend himself against the scurrilous allegations that were made to justify the state's conduct, he, too, would have been acquitted." He apparently was referring to the prosecution calling Bias a "courtesy middleman."
Some controversy developed over Long and Gregg saying they had used cocaine, with Bias, in the dorm populated by athletes. Beyond the players themselves, where should blame for such illegal recreation go? Driesell? Or those monitoring the dorm? Bias's death came long after the basketball season ended.
Also, Long said he had little fear of being caught because he considered the school's drug-testing procedures "a joke."
Len's parents, James and Lonise, were upset over not being allowed to attend the trial. They wanted the same front-row privileges extended Tribble's mother, the same chance to be seen by the jury and witnesses Long and Gregg. By saying he might need their testimony, Morrow successfully kept James and Lonise from courtroom 202. He never called them.
To one unaccustomed to trials not involving Perry Mason, the attorneys -- Morrow for the defense and Robert Bonsib and Jeffrey L. Harding for the state -- were surprisingly tart. If these guys had been facing each other on a basketball court, their ribs would be smarting for a month. Bonsib said yesterday that Tribble would not even be tried for one remaining charge, obstruction of justice.
Because much more was at stake, competition in Judge James M. Rea's court seemed more keen than in any athletic setting. Like sports, there was a victory and a defeat. Several won, but perhaps more lost.