The four Portland Trail Blazers accused of sexual misconduct won't face criminal charges, but they won't avoid some punishment for their actions three weeks ago in Salt Lake City.
The players face fines, suspensions, threat of a civil suit and other potential discipline from the NBA.The Trail Blazers did not violate any Utah laws when they had sex with two 16-year-old Murray girls, Salt Lake County Attorney David Yocom announced Thurs-day.
"We cannot conclude that there is sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the girls were enticed or coerced into submitting or participating in the sex acts," he said.
But Yocom said he believes the law should be changed to prevent others from taking advantage of their positions as professional athletes to gain sexual favors from minors. He plans to suggest some changes to the Legislature.
Shortly after that announcement, the Trail Blazers team suspended rookies Tracy Murray and Dave Johnson for three games beginning immediately. They were also fined. Starter Jerome Kersey and rookie Reggie Smith were ordered to pay an unspecified fine, but they were not suspended.
"We do not take breaches of our policies or team rules lightly and feel deep regret that some of our players have shown poor judgment, and for that we apologize," said Geoff Petrie, the team's senior vice president for operations.
Kersey and Smith both issued statements apologizing for their actions. The statements, however, may have been drafted by the team.
Ed Brass, Murray's defense attorney, said he was given proposed drafts of apology letters from the team but advised his client against issuing it. "We disagree with the content and whether an apology is even appropriate," Brass said.
The NBA said Thursday its investigation into the sexual activities on Jan. 23 and 24 is not over yet.
"Though no charges have been filed, the conduct of the players involved is nonetheless disturbing . . . and the NBA will determine over the next few weeks whether any additional measures are required," said spokesman Brian McIntyre.
"We just want to make sure we've got all the facts before we say, `OK, it's closed,' " he said.
And at least one of the four players may face a possible civil suit.
Ed Guyon, attorney for one of the 16-year-old girls, told the Deseret News his client still maintains she was coerced into having sex with one of the players.
Guyon said he sees a "great opportunity" for civil action but has not gathered enough evidence to determine if he'll definitely file the suit. Even though police and prosecutors feel no laws were broken, the attorney said the burden of proof is much greater in criminal cases than it is in civil cases.
A 15-year-old girl, who was with the other girls but didn't participate in any sexual activities, has strongly disputed the allegation that her friend was coerced. She told police and prosecutors she saw the girl willingly undress and get into bed with one of the players.
"Everybody keeps asking me if there was a rape, and I keep getting meaner and meaner about it. There wasn't," she told the Deseret News Wednesday.
"I think she (the 16-year-old) is going way out of her way. There's no way in heck there was a rape. I was right there."
Yocom said that player also received a verbal consent from the girl. "The player basically said, `May I?' and she said yes."
Yocom said Utah law prohibits 16- and 17-year-olds from engaging in consensual sex with adults who are more than three years older if the adult entices or coerces the victim. Investigators looked but could find no evidence of enticement or coercion.
At one time, prosecutors thought that just being with an NBA star might be considered a form of enticement. "We did consider it and tried to interpret it as best we could," Yocom said. But they didn't feel that theory would hold up in court.
Prosecutors also considered filing a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Yocom said he and prosecutor Greg Skordas left the decision to file that charge up to the two 16-year-old girls.
"They both felt it was not in their best interest to do so," Yocom said, explaining that the girls were uncomfortable with obtaining a "celebrity status" of testifying against the players.
"It would have been difficult for the girls to get on with their lives."
Yocom also considered curfew, aiding a runaway and fornication charges.
Investigators never spoke with any of the players, but Yocom said he did consult with four local attorneys for the team and players during the investigation. He declined to say whether he offered them any plea bargain. "Obviously our negotiations are confidential," he said.
The father of one of the 16-year-old girls said Thursday he was pleased with Yocom's decision because his daughter still maintains she was not raped.
"It's a shame they were cruising for girls and that they got girls that were too young," he said. "But it'd be a shame to ruin (players') careers because of an indiscretion."
He was pleased to learn the team had suspended and fined the players, however. "My concern is that we do something to stop this from happening again," he said, adding that his daughter has recovered from the incident.
Earlier, she told the News she plans to seek counseling "so that I can learn to say, `no,' basically."
The three Murray girls, who were listed as runaways, met some of the Trail Blazers in the eatery at Crossroads Plaza the day before the team played the Utah Jazz. The players invited them to their rooms at the adjoining Marriott Hotel that evening to party. The girls invited other friends and went to the 12th floor room later that night.
The girls were watching TV in one of the rooms when the conversation turned to sex, the 15-year-old said. The girls told the players they had had sex before. One girl said she was 19 years old and the others said they were 17.
At some point, one of the 16-year-olds had sex with a player, then left with the other girls. The same girl later called the same player and asked if they could stay with the players that night because they had missed their ride home.
"He said, `What's in it for me?' " Yocom explained. At least two of the three girls offered sex and the player agreed.
The 15-year-old told the News she fell asleep in one of the bedrooms and later woke to see a Trail Blazer and one girl "getting busy. I faked like I was asleep because I was so embarrassed," she said.
The two girls spent the balance of the evening in the room, said Yocom. The other 16-year-old stayed in another room and said she had sexual relations with three players. She told the News, however, that she had sex with four players during the evening.
She said she enjoyed having sex and didn't want charges filed against the men "because they were just looking to have fun and I told them I was 19." One of the players told her he was coming back to Salt Lake City for another game and asked, "How am I supposed to get a hold of you when we come back in April?" she said.
Some of the players were drinking beer in the rooms, but the girls denied that they participated.
In the morning, one of the players gave the girls money for a cab and breakfast and they left the hotel. That afternoon, while the Trail Blazers were playing the Jazz on national television, the girls were arrested for shoplifting at Nordstrom.
They told police they had spent the night at the hotel with the Trail Blazers.
"I personally feel this age group of young girls needs some protection under the law," Yocom said. He plans to ask the Legislature to amend the law to make it a third-degree felony for an adult at least three years older than a minor to engage in sex with a 16- or 17-year-old. The current law allows prosecutors to charge adults with the felony if they have sex with a minor 15 years or younger.
Johnson's attorney, Ron Yen-gich, said Johnson realizes that he has additional responsibilities because of his status as an NBA player. "He's a young man, and life for all of us is a learning experience," he said.
Although Kersey issued an apology, his attorney, Kevin Kuru-ma-da, said he does not believe his client was involved in the incidents. The girls' differing statements have still left a lot of confusion and doubt, he said.
The girls initially gave police the names of seven men who were allegedly involved. Not all of the names matched up with players, and some of those were later proven not to be involved. That also bothers Brass, who doubts that his client was involved either.
"It isn't clear whether he was involved because no one's ever interviewed him and heard his version of what took place," he said.